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Ingenious Pain

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  1,229 Ratings  ·  110 Reviews
A chronicle of life of an eighteenth-century man born without the ability to feel pain, this amazing book “offers a panoply of literary pleasures†(Washington Post Book World). Winner of Britain’s James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the 1999 IMPAC Award. “Astoundingly good†(New York Times Book Review).
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 1st 1998 by Harvest Books (first published 1997)
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Nov 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, reviewed, 2015
James Dyer is dangerous man. He’s dangerous because he does not care. And such people are always dangerous. Endowed with special gift or maybe a curse he’s imperious to pain, both physical and emotional. And hence his lack of empathy, ordinary human kinship, a bit of compassion and concern . That something what makes us humans.

He was born in a small English village, as the result of not really romantic adventure on the rink and until the tenth year of life had never ever cried not even uttered a
I recently heard an interview with Andrew Miller on the radio - he was speaking about his last book, Pure, which was just published here in translation. He was an interesting and eloquent speaker and got me interested in reading his book, but then I remembered about Ingenious Pain - and that I've had this book on my shelf for over four years.

I'm glad that I heard this interview, as it reminded me of why I became interested in this author and why I bought this book in the first place. Ingenious P
Jul 06, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not exactly a title that says "pick me up and buy me," but nevertheless a very richly detailed novel set in 18th century England, one that really made me feel what it must have been like to be alive then. Too many beautifully worded descriptions to repeat here, but here's one on a new-born calf: "A glorious sight! The cow's expanse of tongue licking the calf, and the calf itself, trembling, delicately stunned by its passage into the air." The story is about a man who is born without the ability ...more
Feb 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1997
Mid 5. This is a sublime achievement for a debut novel as Miller has not only created a tour-de-force of historical fiction, but has also captured the essence of the period of the Enlightenement with on the one hand, its heady mix of scientific enquiry and heightened awareness of the wider world to be explored, and on the other, the underlying cruelty and barbarity which still anchored society to the superstitions and practices of gthe past. James Dyer is a masterful creation with which to vivid ...more
Very Interesting Premise, Interesting Characters, Historically Well Written. But the ending and the relationships between the characters were a bit disappointing to me.

There were parts of this novel that I really enjoyed, the author is clearly talented. He creates vivid images, some memorable characters and moves the story along at a brisk pace. It was only in the fleshing out of the emotional relationships between his characters that I found myself wanting for more.

James Dyer cannot feel pain,
د.حنان فاروق
قالت لي أمي ذات حنان أنها كانت تود لو تضعني وأخي في بيت زجاجي لا يدخل لنا منه حزن أو ألم نستمتع منه بالعالم دون أن نتوجع...لو تعرفين يا أمي.. هذا الألم هو عين إنسانيتنا ولعله الأمانة التي جفلت منها السماوات والأرض وحملناها طوعاً فكانت صليبنا ومخلصنا معاً...الألم هو قصة الحياة والفرح والحب والأمل والصبر والصمت والحلم...الألم هو يد الحكمة ونبرة الإيمان وشفا الجنون وعصف الضجر والغضب.،،الألم هو أن نكون نحن ..لا الآلة التي يحاول الزمن الحديث أن ينقلنا إلى عالمها ويجردنا من إرثنا المترامي الذي ورثناه ...more
May 11, 2009 rated it liked it
A little disappointing. The first half or two thirds is quite engrossing, and it's very well written (although I wouldn't go so far as to say "dazzling" or "extraordinary", as the critics on the cover proclaim), but it just didn't do enough for me. I don't think the characters in general and the main character in particular are fleshed out enough, and the story doesn't do an awful lot. It doesn't impart much in the way of wisdom or insight or offer any fresh or surprising perspectives. If I'd di ...more
"And did you get what you wanted from this life,even so. I did.
And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on earth" - Raymond Carver.

I have to agree with a few other people and say that it's a combo of historical fiction and fantasy. The ending was a bit sudden and disappointing, but overall I enjoyed it. Lyrical and sometimes grim.
Aug 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, 1990-2010
I think I was first alerted to Andrew Miller as a novelist when I read admiring reviews of Ingenious Pain, his first novel, but I somehow didn’t get round to reading the book; instead, I read a couple of his later books, Oxygen and the highly-acclaimed Pure.

On the basis of these, I was developing a notion of Miller as someone who promises much but somehow doesn’t quite deliver. Pure has outrageously good subject-matter for a historical novel, and would make a memorable elevator pitch; it also c
Sep 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
James Rye
Jun 29, 2012 rated it did not like it
This isn't technically a review, because I'm afraid I abandoned the book about a third of the way through. I just couldn't finish it. I bought it on the strength of the author's novel "Pure" which I thoroughly enjoyed, and which fascinated me on a intellectual level and moved me emotionally. There was a main character I could identify with and a plot that had tension. For me, both of those were missing from this book.

This book has won prizes. I can see that it does have beautiful prose, but I wa
Elizabeth Baines
Sep 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
I loved this book when I first read it a few years ago but reading it again found that I hadn't remembered it as well as I thought - I'd really only remembered the basic concept and not the picaresque story which makes up most of the novel. So I'm rather more dubious about it now, feeling that its 'high concept' is merely illustrated rather than developed. It's a great read, though, moving, and a vivid and authentic-seeming depiction of the atmosphere and language of eighteenth-century England. ...more
Mai Mostafa
Feb 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of the books that inspired me the most. I was a little disappointed at first, because I wanted more out of it. But then I realized that what I love the most about that book is that I long for more of it. Definitely leaves room for the reader to use his/her imagination and get creative.
andrew miller's debut novel, historical 1700's england and europe and russia, an md who cannot feel pain, but he meats our plenty. author won james tait black award and impac award for this. prose as cold as ice, and burning too.
Peter Fogtdal
Oct 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Peter by: I found it in a hotel in Thailand (!)
Ingenious Pain is one of the best historical novels I ever read. It's the first work of British writer Andrew Miller. And what a first novel. It's extremely well written and tells the story about a boy/man/doctor who can't feel pain, neither his own or others' . Wow! I repeat, Wow!
Sep 29, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
James Dyer as the hero of the book is a little hard to feel sympathy for. Probably this is due to the coldness of his character, hard to like someone with little emotion.
The story of his life however is interesting, from his birth to him travelling to Russia to innoculate Catherine the Great.
Book Concierge
In 1739 James Dyer is born to an impoverished family in the small English village of Blind Yeo. He never cries, and doesn’t even speak for ten years. He quietly observes and forms his view of the world, skewed by his inability to feel any pain – physical or emotional. He becomes a sort of freak show display, used first by a con man selling useless potions, and then “safeguarded” by a wealthy patron with an insatiable curiosity for nature’s oddities. Eventually, he becomes a celebrated surgeon an ...more
Roz Morris
Feb 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really liked this - up to a point. Around the middle, it takes a turn that I feel spoils it. Moreover, I suspect that this turn was suggested by an editor as it suddenly seems to become a different kind of book - and not in a good way. It looks as though it's been twisted to include redemption and it doesn't work. Not that redemption couldn't work in a novel like this, but here it seems unconvincing.
Maybe for other readers, this is its masterstroke. I won't say too much about it because I'd be
Mar 22, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Tells the story of James Dyer, born in 18th century rural England, who is unable to feel pain. Exploited first by a travelling showman, then by the doctor who rescues him, he becomes a successful if unlikeable doctor, apparently lacking a soul. The story is interesting and well told, but ultimately seemed to me as empty as the main character. Not to mention that someone unable to feel pain would hardly have survived the limited hygeine of the period beyond his earliest years. But that's a quibbl ...more
Mark Peters
Jun 15, 2012 rated it really liked it

An intriguing and inventive book that by its main conceit reminded me of 'Perfume' (otherwise neither book was that similar) and while I wasn't too put out by the changes in narrator and the time jumps I'm afraid I did find it a little contrived. Worthy book for sure and I'm glad I read it but was slighter than its awards haul would have suggested.
Aug 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, historical
This was a historical novel which explored the idea that it is our ability to feel pain which enables us to feel empathy, compassion and pleasure. I didn't always agree with his arguement but it got me thinking and I enjoyed the book. It had a credible historical background and I really liked the author's writing style.
Jul 13, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
Another book I started and left without finishing. It is written in Ye Olde English and felt totally contrived and annoying, so much so I couldn't get into the storyline, which is supposed to be absolutely wonderful.
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Interesting premise for a story. I read it on vacation and I found it really difficult to get into, due mostly to Miller's writing style.
Carrie Turner
Dec 02, 2012 rated it did not like it
I couldn't finish it. Couldn't really get into it.
Jan 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
‘'At the foot of the bed is a parcel. James sits on the bed and its it on to his lap. Old clothes, most quite useless now, too small, too ragged. He drops them on to the floor. Underneath is the box, its sides scratches, splintered in places. He opens it. Venus rolls about like a marble. The sun is dented. The moon leans drunkenly away from Earth. Patiently, he sets to work, restoring his universe.’’

And what a universe it was.
I almost decided to quit this book in the first fifty pages. I really
Adam Stevenson
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
We live in a world that tells us we should strive towards happiness and avoid pain at all costs, this book argues that it is our shared pain that binds humanity together.

James Dyer can’t feel pain, nor can he feel pleasure, nor any real sort of emotion. When his family are wiped out by smallpox (horrifically described) he can think loss but not feel it.

This bildungsroman then takes him through various aspects of life; as a mountebank’s toad-eater, a rich gentleman’s curiosity, a naval surgeon an
Jul 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An intriguing tale, beautifully told. Set in the 1770s (mostly), it tells the strange tale of Dr James Dyer, a self-taught/made surgeon who feels no pain, of any kind - physical, emotional, psychological. We follow James' story from birth to death, from Bath to Russia, from lunatic asylum to serene retirement.

It's a melancholy kind of story. Previous books I've read by this author (Oxygen and Casanova in Love were both lighter - 'Casanova' almost a farce, poking its tongue out at us. But this on
Janine Van
Dec 25, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literatuur
Leuk om te lezen. Vertelt het verhaal van James Dyer, die leefde in 18e eeuw. Hoe zijn familie overlijdt aan de pokken. Hoe hij terecht komt op de kermis doordat hij geen pijn voelt. Zijn tijd in een hospitaal met bijzondere patiënten. Hoe hij arts wordt, eerst op een schip en vervolgens in Bath. Dan hoe ds Lestrade, waar het boek mee begint, hem leert kennen op een reis naar de keizerin van Rusland en tenslotte zijn laatste jaren, waarin zijn bijzondere gave is verdwenen. Gebruik van verschille ...more
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fun read despite the old and melancholy setting and deep philosophical questions.

Combo of old medical practitioner practices and the vague hints at magical practices was really fun and kept it interesting.

Miller used a nice range of perspectives and styles of writing, switching from Dyer's perspective to people writing letters about Dyer, which kept the pace up really nicely.

Overall a really nice read. Got me out of a reading slump.

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Andrew Miller was born in Bristol in 1960. He has lived in Spain, Japan, Ireland and France, and currently lives in Somerset. His first novel, INGENIOUS PAIN, was published by Sceptre in 1997 and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Grinzane Cavour prize in Italy. His second novel, CASANOVA, was published in 1998, followed by OX ...more
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