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The Sensualist: An Illustrated Novel

3.59  ·  Rating Details ·  307 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
Now in paperback, this potent mystery draws readers into a tangle of lost loves, vengeance, and murder. Set in the dark world of a European winter, and illuminated with Barbara Hodgson's haunting illustrations, The Sensualist is a visual and literary exploration of the limitations of looking and the boundless power of seeing.
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 1st 2001 by Chronicle Books (first published 1998)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 640)
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Sep 04, 2011 Magdelanye rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: artists and adventurers
Never judge a book by its cover is a cliche that invites caution and warns about being duped by design. In the case of the Sensualist, because the book itself is so gorgeous, I was braced for disappointment in the writing.

In fact, I had to be wooed a bit, because the opening is grotesque and it took a while for me to warm up to Helen Martin, scholar of antique anatomical illustration, in which I have not the slightest interest. Yet in spite of Barbara Hodgsons lack of an attempt to present her
Ian Wood
This is the complete review as it appears at my blog dedicated to reading, writing (no 'rithmatic!), movies, & TV. Blog reviews often contain links which are not reproduced here, nor will updates or modifications to the blog review be replicated here.

I rated this novel warty!


This novel started out right up there with Frances Hardinge's efforts for being downright weird, so it drew me in right away, but in the end it became tedious, repetitive, dull, and boring. Barbara Hodgson is a
Jun 04, 2014 Emily rated it it was amazing
This beautifully illustrated mystery follows Helen Martin on a very strange journey. An expert in antique anatomical illustrations she goes on a trip to track down her missing husband, all the while feeling not quite herself. She goes through several strange transformations a little like poor Gregor Samsa, she's never sure who she'll be when she wakes up. Mostly i just loved the strange images that are scattered throughout.
Kate Lansky
Sep 17, 2009 Kate Lansky rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
My biggest problem with this book, beyond the disconnect others have commented on, was that the main character just didn't seem to know her profession. By the end of the book, I felt like this could have happened to anyone, that what she did for a living meant nothing. It was deeply, deeply frustrating for me!
Dec 01, 2009 Gemma rated it liked it
Love the art - antiqued layers of mystery. The characters and plots started off with the same, rich layered appeal. But somewhere about halfway it all fell away. I thought her book, "The Tattooed Map" was a better reflection of the writer and artist.
Sep 24, 2012 Jennifer rated it it was ok
There was great potential here, but it was unrealized. The plot lines scattered in all directions. What resolution was offered was patchy and haphazard. Like the box of relics that turn to dust - so do the various elements in the story.
Jun 14, 2013 Cindi rated it it was ok
Hmmmm. Where to start? Strange, weird... just plain bizzare? Had to finish to see if it resolved. Nope. Too many loose ends. Too many questions unanswered. Clever idea, poor execution.
Apr 19, 2009 Ariane rated it it was amazing
In the top 3 list of my favorite books. Part mystery, part travel novel, part introspection. It had me hooked from the first page.
Aug 15, 2014 Diane rated it really liked it
A strange and wonderful and unpredictable book - but you'd better have a taste for a certain level of scholarship & historical minutiae if you want to enjoy it. Not to mention a lack of tidy resolution of the main character's life dilemmas. Lots of fun, with intriguing artwork throughout. Fun fun. Glad I read it.
Jun 18, 2013 Madonna rated it it was ok
This was an interesting read, even though I was never really drawn in to the story. I liked the history parts, and the information about printing was certainly new to me. I did like the main character and she had my sympathy over her husband's not contacting her and then having the balls to complain about her not being home in the one contact he made. I certainly didn't like him. The illustrations were great and I enjoyed looking at them.
I just didn't get the part about Rosa and the others who
Mar 28, 2012 Jaymee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anatomy, history, (dis)embodiment are some of the focus of this novel. Not quite sure whether it's interestingly nice or just strange: it's that kind of book. The visuals were beautiful; however, the text and story don't seem to deliver, despite its promising premise. Hodgson could have done so much with her researches on the history of anatomy, including the themes which she chose--disembodiment and disjointedness--but somehow they fail to capture one's emotions and attention. That said, the vi ...more
Dimitri Walker
Jan 05, 2013 Dimitri Walker rated it it was ok
I say to my kids when they ask me about a book one of three things. When ask about this book by my daughter I told her "Poppy had to drag himself through this one sweetie". The opening line is awesome but the book doesn't quite live up to it. The lead character doesn't seem to know her job and the book itself spends way too much time trying to teach the reader things the main character needs to know but that we might not in order to enjoy the story.
The Sensualist An Illustrated Novel by Barbara Hodgson
Shahara LeFay
Dec 31, 2015 Shahara LeFay rated it it was amazing
Different. Lovely. Compelling. I think #Scientific-rotica is the next new genre. The illustrations alone amazed. One of my top 10 of 2015.
Sarah Emily
Jan 02, 2009 Sarah Emily rated it liked it
I have an exceptional tolerance for stories that don't quite make sense, for plots with huge missing pieces that require one to trust that the author will eventually clear things up. The Sensualist truly tested my patience in regards to surrealist mysteries. however, it also kept me curious and connected. this is a book to take on if you have several hours to commit to getting involved, not one that can be picked up and put down again casually. but if you do have the time, it's a odd and intrigu ...more
May 17, 2012 Thebruce1314 rated it it was ok
Shelves: books-i-gots
Let me just sum it up in one word: weird. I don't even know why I kept wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great either. Something about the writing kept me going, but the story was twisted, convoluted and downright strange! The best part of the book: the heavy paper it was printed on. Even the illustrations (which, I admit, were part of what drew me to this book, along with the 50 cent price tag) were somewhat disappointing. But it does contain a flip-out diagram of a head, if that is o ...more
Nov 20, 2014 Melissa rated it liked it
Shelves: ladies-writin
A cross between The Club Dumas & The World According to Garp. It starts off wonderfully, eccentric characters, strange circumstances, oddities galore. Unfortunately, much like The C.D., it bogs down in the middle with too much hoo-ha about what drawing came from what block carved by what guy and when? Barbara Hodgson fails to tie all the elements together; by the end, most all of the questions I had about the reality that this book presents were still unanswered.
Amy Cox
Sep 14, 2015 Amy Cox rated it it was ok
Couldn't get into the main character.
Aug 22, 2015 Elana added it
The story of the Vesalius print becomes too complicated and the story of Martin becomes too simple. Otherwise brilliant use of illustrations of the contents of the box. The senses were played to much more towards the beginning of the book and were less enthralling later on. I think I would have to read this book again to be sure I picked up on everything.
Austin Peters
Jul 28, 2011 Austin Peters rated it did not like it
The only reason I gave this book a full star is because of the amazing pictures. I was only able to get about 2/3 of the way through this book before setting it down and not being able to bring myself to pick it up again. The writing is drab and the story uninteresting, not to mention confusing. Who knows, maybe the end was worth it; I'll never know.
Apple Austria
i couldn't wait to finish it cause i knew that i would only understand what the whole race to vienna was all about once i'm done.. true enough.. i loved how the two timelines met.. i loved how it confused me.. =)
Apr 24, 2011 Celeste rated it liked it
Ignoring the fact that the plot of this book makes v. little sense (and that those sense-making parts are sometimes hilariously overwritten), it was an enjoyable, disturbing, and sometimes beautiful read.
Susan O'Bryant
Feb 25, 2011 Susan O'Bryant rated it liked it
Shelves: quirky, mystery
I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone unless I knew they were interested in anatomy and/or Vienna or Munich. I thought it was incredibly strange, but not delightfully so.
Nov 03, 2009 Kathryn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like Ms. Hodgson's writing but I LOVE the art! It's what makes all her books for me. The story line of this one was a bit obtuse at times but, after all, it is a mystery.
Mar 11, 2008 lynna rated it liked it
i like this book... it's mystery is interesting... it's exploration of the senses is subtle and weird at times... the ending was a little weak.
Nov 30, 2013 Cynthia rated it it was amazing
A very exotic book that truly appealed to me. Hodgson's approach to each sense was thought provoking with a plotline that kept me reading.
Aug 28, 2013 Caleigh rated it liked it
So very mystical and captivating, although it seems impossible to give such otherworldly tales a satisfactory ending.
Nov 26, 2013 Kathy rated it did not like it
Shelves: ereader-owned
I just didn't get this book at all. Kept waiting for it to make sense. Never did. A waste of time
Aug 04, 2011 DoctorM rated it really liked it
Shelves: art, far-foreign
A mystery about anatomical illustrations, and about Vienna. Beautiful to look at, eerie to read.
Aug 22, 2012 Belinda rated it it was ok
Very strange
Aug 22, 2012 Kim rated it really liked it
Enjoyable read
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Barbara Hodgson is a book designer with a degree in archeology and a diploma in graphic design. She began her career in book design by working for Douglas & McIntyre, moving from freelance designer to art director prior to taking on freelance work for other publishers and ultimately forming the book-packaging company Byzantium Books with Nick Bantock in 1993.

Designing books led to writing book
More about Barbara Hodgson...

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