The Face Transplant
Author: R Arundel
Publisher: Publisher unspecified
DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new novel is reward aplenty!
I had the hardest time ever getting into this. From the first paragraph on page one, it made no sense. Indeed, it really began with the title which indicates one special event, but in this novel, face transplantation was pretty much production-line. Inside, I found the text to be extraordinarily dense and uninformative, which was paradoxical because there was virtually no conversation, only huge amounts of info-dump. Despite this, and after many pages, I hadn't the first clue what was going on here or what this novel was actually about.
Yeah, it was about face transplants being performed under guard, about identities and conspiracies. It was about a face being stolen in a canister, but apart from this loss of face, what was happening here? I have no idea. Whose face was it? I had no idea. Was it the president's face? A celebrity's? An important politician's or a leader of industry or a criminal's? I had no idea.
Why were face transplants being routinely performed? I had no idea. I kept trying to focus on what the text was saying, but it kept blowing me off, and while I'm sure I missed something in that thicket of prose, I have no idea what it was, and I really don't care.
Why was it so critical that this particular face was missing? I had no idea, and worse? I didn't care about that either. I didn't care about any of the characters or about what was going on, and I had no interest in reading on through this dense undergrowth of wild text to find out. I just wasn't interested in these confused and confusing, running, frantic people or in their problems.
This was bad, bad writing if it can't command my attention even for a few chapters. There was one paragraph which went on unbroken for the span of four screens on my Kindle, and I have no idea what it was supposed to be telling me! Take a look at the blurb, which is of the same nature - one long uninterrupted paragraph.
I gave up on the novel after about ten percent because this was all work, with no reward. If I want to work this hard for my entertainment, I'll play a sport. You should not have to work-up a sweat to be pleased by a novel - not a good one anyway - and life is too short to waste on a story which refuses to give you a thing, or which only begrudgingly gives, in return for your willingness to try reading it.
In some ways, this novel borrows heavily from the movie Face Off, and it makes the same mistakes that movie made: it's a lot harder to combat rejection and graft versus host disease than the stories pretend, and it's not just the face. It's arguably much more the bone structure underlying the face which gives the face its appearance than ever it is the face alone. You can't just slap person A's face onto person B and have B look and act exactly like A did, and have the face look normal and work perfectly from the off! Nor would having a robot helping you do the work have any effect on the biology and micro-chemistry of the transplant.
So why did I pick this up? Well, I liked the movie Face Off which obviously inspired this novel, and I actually knew a health-care-giver named Sarah Larssonn (the one I knew was a different spelling, and she wasn't an anesthesiologist; she was a nurse who married one!), so I was interested despite the density of the blurb. I didn't realize that the novel would be written exactly like the blurb, or that it would give so little in return for my reading it. I can't recommend this one.
Update one year later!
This is a weird one. I first got this as an advance review copy from Net Galley, and reviewed it negatively back in May 2015. Then I completely forgot all about it. It was worked on some more by the author and I picked it up for free on Amazon, not realizing I had already read this! Net Galley says it's been completely re-written and if we liked the earlier version, we will love this. I'm sorry but that "logic" simply doesn't work! I did read it, coming into it like it was a new novel (since I'd forgotten it), and I had just as many problems this time as last time. It's still not a worthy read!
One of my initial problems was the info dump, which has gone, but now the novel is completely stripped bare of virtually all description - it's largely a series of conversations, often long enough that you lose track of who is saying what. Moreover, the plot isn't any better. This business of face transplanting (for the purpose of having people become unrecognizable spies) still makes zero sense. Unless they have a DNA transplant, they're still the same person, will still need the same anti-rejection meds, and a simple sampling of facial and body DNA will reveal the ruse.
On top of this there were numerous formatting issues in the Kindle app version of this novel on my phone. Lines ended midway across the screen and continued on the next line - or the next line but one. Speech from different characters was mixed on the same line as is evident in these examples cut and pasted directly from the Kindle app version:
Matthew looks at Liam's smooth narrow face. "You have my vote.""You don't have a vote. You're not on university council.""Well, you know what I mean."
"ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. I just can't believe it. Look at you. Beautiful, strong . . . I can't believe it." Sarah, "I don't look like a person with a progressive neuro-muscular disease.""Exactly.""I don't feel like one either, not at this point." Liam finally speaks.
"Dr. Tom Grabowski, one of the best research surgeons of his era, has died of a heart attack.""Where?"
The voice is that of a young woman. It is calm, confident, and reassuring. Without skipping a beat, Matthew says, "Hi, what should I call you?""I am Alice.""Hi, Alice." Kofi says, "I did all the computer programming. Alice has some facial recognition and voice commands."
The medical knowledge is still poor and too deus ex machina to be believable. At one point, when a legitimate partial face transplant patient has tissue dying because of poor circulation, the doctor says, "I'm not sure it will survive. I'll start antibiotics." If the tissue is all but dead from poor circulation, what's the point of antibiotics which are way over-used anyway? There has been no suggestion that there's an infection, just that the tissue is dying! Antibiotics are not going to help, and are contra-indicated if there is no evidence that infection is playing a part. If the dying tissue is to be excised, then perhaps we can allow that the doctor started prophylactic antibiotics in prep for surgery, but this isn't what's implied in the context of this statement.
The novel is written in the present third person tense which makes it sound weird to me, but that's okay. The problem was that the author sometimes forgot, and used past tense, such as around 10% in, where there was a bit of a flashback, but when we come back to the present, the past tense was still briefly employed.
One last problem is a pet peeve of mine - that every female character is described as beautiful (or as some variant of that word). We get, "Celerie is stunning." (yes, there's a character named Celerie). Another example is, " She is thirty-four, but doesn't look a day over thirty". I found this kind of thing uncomfortably often. It's a form of objectification - as though a women who isn't explicitly beautiful is an ugly hag and not worth our time. I resent that approach and I see it disturbingly often from writers - even from female writers. It needs to stop.
Unless the character's beauty (and indeed physical appearance in general) plays an important part in the story, it's really irrelevant what he or she looks like. Naturally writers put in a description for the benefit of readers, but if you think about it, it's really not necessary. Readers can and ought to be allowed to make up their own mind about how a given character looks. A smart writer will put in a hint or two and leave the rest to the reader. Anything more is a form of telling rather than showing, and I'm surprised that more reviewers don't pick up on it. There's nothing wrong with offering some sort of a description if you feel you must, but I think it's better to be vague. At least, let's agree to cut it out with the 'stunning' and 'beautiful' crap.
In short, I still don't consider this novel to be a worthy read.