Edinburgh, 1817. A secluded castle becomes a make-shift teaching hospital for one pupil determined to solve a mystery endangering the city’s impoverished and make her lifelong dream a reality.
In “Anatomy: A Love Story” by Dana Schwartz, Hazel Sinnett loses her status as the brightest prospect of a renowned surgeon’s anatomy class when it is discovered she had been disguised as her deceased brother the entire time. Since women are barred from the profession of surgery, posing as a man was the only way for her to attend Dr. Beecham’s lectures, an education vital to Hazel’s pursuit of a career few women, if any, are allowed to advance in. For a noblewoman like Hazel, society has determined only one suitable path for her life to follow; her advantageous marriage to her viscount cousin will secure her role as a wife and mother, a fate that lurks in the shadows of a dead-end road Hazel has vowed to never travel.
Instead, she will become a surgeon, bringing to fruition the years she has spent studying every medical textbook in her late father’s library. The anatomy book Dr. Beecham’s grandfather was renowned for writing has been Hazel’s guide, and when she surpasses all others in the anatomy class, even her instructor recognizes how her talent and dedication could prove her to be one of the best surgeons of her time; it is unfortunate that in her time, women cannot be surgeons. Dr. Beecham issues a challenge for Hazel, that if she can pass the medical exam on her own, the doctor will allow her to enroll in university. She has a chance, but the odds fall out of her favor without the most important aspect of learning- hands on experience. Hazel needs bodies to study; her dream now relies on a miracle.
Enter the one resurrection man in the city who knows Hazel from a chance encounter. Jack Currer makes his living by robbing the dead, selling their fresh corpses to anatomists to study. They pay well for such in-demand material, but authorities lie in wait to enforce the law. Grave robbing is a crime, after all, even if the market for cadavers is made up of future doctors who know exactly where their subjects come from. Jack has been successful so far in dodging the police, but when more and more of his compatriots start disappearing- and then reappearing, with inexplicable ailments, he suspects there are worse things in the night hunting the resurrection men. His transactions with Hazel Sinnett, providing her with the bodies she needs to study, soon become a tandem effort uncover whatever mysterious force is targeting the poorest citizens of Edinburgh.
“Anatomy: A Love Story” is perfect for fans of mystery and historical fiction. Schwartz’s deep love of the setting is reflected in her well-researched portrayal of the time period. Supernatural elements aside, she remains true to the attitudes of this society, and the conditions both Hazel, a confined noblewoman, and Jack, a destitute criminal-by-necessity, endure. She explores the realities of living in such a time, while asking the reader to consider that such old-fashioned attitudes were not shared by all. Hazel in particular is well aware of her situation and how it came to be, but she has a dream for herself that she loves more than the pressure of her position can crush.
This is the true love story at the heart of “Anatomy”, one of a young woman and the career she has decided for herself. The hints of horror and fantasy provide enough intrigue to keep the reader engaged, while the accuracy of the setting keeps the story grounded. It is a slow-burning gothic mystery that will inspire readers with its determined heroine.