The Horrific Sufferings of the Mind-Reading Monster Hercules Barefoot : His Wonderful Love and His Terrible Hatred Paperback
On a stormy night in 1813, a doctor is called to the aid of two prostitutes in childbirth.
To one is born a healthy girl, Henriette, to the other, what can only be described as a monster: a boy, Hercules, deaf-mute and hideously deformed, and with the power to read minds.
As he tells the story of Hercules' bizarre and colourful life, which leads him from the bordello of his birth to a travelling freak show and then a Jesuit monastery and an asylum, Vallgren paints a magical picture of nineteenth-century Europe.
This picaresque fable is filled with curiosities but is, at its heart, an extraordinary and unforgettable love story.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 288 pages
- Publisher: Vintage Publishing
- Publication Date: 06/04/2006
- Category: Historical fiction
- ISBN: 9780099464396
Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.
Review by Bibliovoracious
A couple of weeks ago, I finally came to the end of The Horrific Sufferings of the Mind Reading Monster Hercules Barefoot: His Wonderful Love and His Terrible Hatred by Carl-Johan Vallgren. Perhaps the title is less of a mouthful in the original Swedish, but the book itself was nevertheless very good indeed. Translated fiction has never been something I typically read so I surprised myself by picking this up in the first place, but I'm certainly glad I did. Perhaps the fact that it was a free publisher's proof had something to do with it... The story is a dark and powerful picaresque tale with more than a hint of the Gothic, and it recounts the terrible misfortunes that beset the eponymous hero from his dramatic birth to his death just over a century later. Deaf, dumb and horrendously deformed, Hercules is forced from the start to struggle for love and acceptance. Only his transcendent love for Henriette Vogel allows him to survive in a suspicious and superstitious world that fears and despises him. Hercules and Henriette are born within minutes of each other to prostitutes on a wildly stormy night in 1819. Henriette is a picture of health and beauty, but Hercules' deformities are so severe that his mother dies in childbirth and he is thereafter left to the surprisingly tender care of the assorted prostitutes in the German brothel that comprises his whole world. Hidden from visitors and kept away from the outside world, Hercules quickly forms an unbreakable bond with Henriette that is to sustain him throughout his lifetime. The crux of the story lies in the fact that although he is physically weak, Hercules has the ability to read and influence the minds of those around him. The book makes it clear that this is both a blessing and a curse - while it undoubtedly gives him great power over people, it also allows him to see into the very darkest corners of the human mind and to see the revulsion he evokes in people around him. When the brothel is closed down, Hercules is torn from his beloved Henriette and from the only world he knows and is thrown into chaos and cruelty. His life from that point is a series of disasters - from being thrown into a nightmarish lunatic asylum to being forced to flee for his life from murderous agents of the Vatican who believe he is demonically possessed. Indeed the only thing that helps him survive and to cling on to his sanity are his mental abilities and his undying love for Henriette. In this, the story is as much about the irresistible power of love to overcome all things as it is a tale of unending woe. Vallgren does a fantastic job of evoking the reader's sympathy for his misshapen hero, and even when he later uses his abilities to do some truly terrible things, we can nevertheless understand the pain that drives him, and even (if we are honest) cheer him on a bit. Trust me - read the book and you'll see what I mean. As gruesome and surreal as some of the scenes are, they always pack an emotional punch. In the end the strong dual themes of revenge and redemption through love were what made this book great for me. Vallgren resists the temptation to descend into farce or to present the world in black and white. His characters are strong and real and he plays on your emotions with a deft and subtle touch. Definitely worth picking up...
Review by Yorkshiresoul
You've managed to read a chapter if you got through the title, thankfully Vallgren doesn't suffer from overly wordy prose throughout the book, it's just the title that got away from him.Hercules Barfuss is born to a prostitute who dies in childbirth, he is terribly deformed, short, spine bent, hollow backed, a cleft palate that has consumed his nose, strange bony outcroppings on his overly large head, a wolfs pelt on his back. He is so ugly that the village priest wants him killed, but in the sisterhood of the brothel he finds a family, and a girl who loves him, born on the same night to a second prostitute, Henriette.Hercules is raised in the brothel, sheltered from the harsh outside world, but when the brothel is forced to close he is cast out, and this is where the 'horrific sufferings' take place, and poor Hercules really does suffer. Napoleonic era Europe doesn't care for the likes of Hercules, and often even his mind reading talent cannot help him.He is saved once by a kindly priest, but rumours of his mind powers spread until the monastery is stormed by angry/frightened peasants and Hercles is forced to flee to Rome. Eventually Hercules is pushed too far, and he begins to avenge himself on those he thinks have wronged him.Vallgren's tale of hope and loss is an unusual, genre crossing novel, but well written, in parts love story, action adventure, paranormal and tragedy. Hercules is an intriguing character, physically deformed, mentally powerful, morally ambiguous, he inspires pity, love and hatred in equal amounts as he struggles to make his way in the world.Vallgren has had eight books published, but this is the first to be translated into English. He has put plenty of thought into this novel, his musings on religion and language make for some thought provoking reading, but he doesn't let his deeper interests get in the way of the story telling, and the Hercules' tale keeps you gripped right to the last page.
Review by janeajones
The Horrific Sufferings of the Mind-Reading Monster Hercules Barefoot, his Wonderful Love and Terrible Hatred by Carl-Johan Vallgren is a delight: a magical realism tour through the underside of early 19th century Northern Europe (unfortunately it doesn't go to Sweden, despite the author's nationality). It reminded at times of Candide and Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus. The protagonist, Hercule Barfuss is a deaf and dumb, armless, gnome-like savant who does indeed read minds and has preternaturally talented feet and toes. He was born in a brothel on the same night as the perfect Henriette, who becomes his soul-mate, his other half. When they are separated, he spends most of the book trying to find her. There are horrific scenes of suffering at the hands of heartless authorities and of vengeance taken by Hercule. But the book moves swiftly and is, at times, hilarious.My only caveat was the last chapter. The book is framed by a letters from Hercule's great grandson in Martha's Vineyard to one of his European relatives. The introduction is OK as it leads the reader into Hercule's tale, but the last chapter is a rather flat summing up of his later life in America and a disquisition on the development of deaf education. It's unnecessary and anti-climactic -- way too much denoument. So, my recommendation is to read the book and skip the last chapter, unless you like neatly wrapped-up packages or want to learn more about the history of sign language.
Review by BookJumper
(contains possible plot spoiler)Think "The Count of Montecristo" meets "Frankenstein" meets "Notre-Dame de Paris". Think a tale of horrors, injustice, revenge tempered by one of the sweetest love stories you'll ever read. Think misfits who long for a normal life, so-called normal people who are really demons from the deepest pits of hell, think an unhappy ending in the middle and a finale both uplifting and moving. Think colours, circuses, murders. Think compelling characters, gripping writing, one of the best and most important books i've read in years.Having said that, one minor (?) gripe: the evillest villain of the lot, the one you wait to see punished with every fibre of your being, the one for whom you find yourself imagining the most painful, horrible death in the history of dying - dies in the least painful, horrible death imaginable.In conclusion: amazing book, powerful, atmospheric, spellbinding, definitely worth reading and re-reading, but if you've got a sense of justice prepare to feel just a little unsatisfied.