The Children's Hospital Paperback – Oct 23 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Medicine, magic, the biblical story of Noah and sociological ruminations about Americans in the throes of the apocalypse come together in physician Adrian's hip, wry and ambitious debut. When the world is submerged beneath seven miles of water, only those aboard the Children's Hospital, a working medical facility and ark built by architect turned prophet John Grampus (who was ordered by God "to save the kids") survive. Four chatty, digressive and at times grimly comic angels (the recorder, the preserver, the accuser and the destroyer) narrate this epic tale, which follows heart-sick medical student Jemma and the hospital's other unlikely inhabitants (such as the overly-cutely-named Dr. Snood and Ethel Puffer) as they attempt to ensure humanity's survival and live by virtue of the ship's "replicators," heaven-sent devices that can make "apples out of old shoes; shoes out of shit." Eventually, Jemma discovers her magical ability to heal the sick. As fragments of her tragic past come to light, so do clues about humanity's future, and, after 200 days at sea, what part Jemma will finally play in it. This dense and lengthy satirical-but-sincere novel may challenge readers' patience with its fairy-tale-like characters and its long-windedness, but Adrian's knack for surprise and his ability to find meaning in seemingly ridiculous situations is rewarding.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
*Starred Review* In Adrian's second novel, an elegant and enormously wondrous monstrosity, the world comes to an end, drowned beneath seven miles of water. All that is preserved is a solitary children's hospital and its occupants. Presiding over the apocalypse are four angels who often are indistinguishable from demons: one to chronicle and one to accuse, one to protect and one to punish. Within the floating hospital, medical student Jemma Claflin discovers that a fearsome healing fire burns within her, a fire that she uses to cleanse the hideously diseased children of their "wrongness." It is useless, however, against the greater wrongness of the rest of her ark mates, who struggle to maintain some semblance of normalcy amidst the confounding swirl of the end-time. Adrian, poetically and with exacting precision, has crafted a prophetic, difficult novel of compassion and healing, but with a keen eye fixed on the damning reach of divine wrath. The scalpel's edge between grace and violence, between healing and putrefaction, can scarcely distinguish life as an obscene abomination from the miracle it suffers to be. Adrian attempts a near-impossible summit, and delivers a devastating, transformative work that is certain to burn in the minds of readers long after the final page's end of the end of the world. Ian Chipman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Many of the concepts of the novel are original and downright fascinating. For example, whoever heard of a floating hospital? Or replicators that turn shoes into food? Adrian also examines how a culture steeped in technology and science views the end of the world. Science and technology clash throughout the novel, especially when Jemma's ability to heal the children flies in the face of everything physicians and nurses are taught. Not even the presence of angels is enough to get a buy-in. Rather than being revered, the preserving angel is reviled and often told to "shut up" by the inhabitants of the hospital. John Grampus, the architect charged with creating the children's hospital, describes his relationship with his angel as sexual, rather than spiritual. After all, how spiritual is an angel that creates porn-on-demand and sex toys?Read more ›
Don't let the length of the book scare you off. It was so engrossing I often read 100 pages in one sitting without even stopping to take a sip of water. This book is dark, disturbing, and hilarious. The characters are complex, interesting and dynamic, and I loved reading about their various exploits as they ran around the hospital attempting to figure out what exactly was going on and how to deal with the situation.
If you like magic realism of the Haruki Murakami variety, you'll probably love The Children's Hospital. His book of short stories, A Better Angel, is also very good, and has some repeat characters from this book.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The story is broken into three 'events' that propel the narrative forward,(the first being the flood) and to give the other two away would be to deny a reader the fun for having the sheer vivacity to push through to the end. For me it became hard going. The fact I had no idea where the book was headed which was great, but the energy it took to plod through protracted passages that go on for pages was enough to almost make me put the book away, except for the fact I wanted to see how it turned out.
At the end of the day, when I finish a book, I have to ask myself who could I recommend this to? Sadly the answer to this was no one. If the plot doesn't derail some people, the exhaustive text will. I'm giving the impression I didn't like it, and that's not entirely the case. I just found myself working extremely hard for something that didn't pay off the way I hoped or imagined.
Per his interviews, Adrian is a student at 'divinity school' and a fan of 'American religious history.' Christian readers might mind the absence of Jesus, except as a curse word. The one oblique New Testament reference is to Satan, though I still can't figure out if he was in the book. The pattern of the 'Thing' seems like the sort of thing the Old Testament God was always pulling, and that is at least satisfying.
Though this book can't be read as future history, Adrian speaks to our times well. Death is Adrian's other purported obsession, and I believe I think of death a little bit differently now, especially after the stirring last few pages. A hospital is a place that rages against death to the very end. Perhaps it is appropriate that the apparent last moment of sin and death in human history would occur in one. The implications of the end of Adrian's world make his God's divergence from the new covenant seem somehow not so much a big deal, in fact, though I still do not know that I like why his God opens the floodgates.
So why not? Why wouldn't God pick the most hopeless place, filled with the most innocent suffering to turn history again? A children's hospital is filled with sufferers of unnamed, chronic, miserable, even incurable disorders. Another author might pick such a place to discredit a loving, omnipotent creator. Adrian, having spent many nights in such a place himself, tells his story of a terrible and wonderful miracle and the possibility of all loose ends tied.
Like I said, I couldn't put it down, which speaks for the book's spell-like grip it had on me. But as beautiful as it was, I'm unbelievably furious at this book for leaving me with nothing but a pervasive sense of grief and a headache.
An angel guides John Grampus in constructing the world's first uprootable floating hospital -- complete with post-Flood self-expansion capability and replicators that can recreate virtually anything from the "old world" - and angels occupy a significant place in the post-apocalyptic era. "It takes four angels to oversee an apocalypse," Adrian tells us early in his story: a recording angel, a preserving angel, an accusing angle, and a destroying angel. The reader is left to discover the identity of each angel and how they effectuate their designated roles.
Once those inside the hospital (medical staff, suffering children, and some parents) get past the stark realization of their survival and its divine implications (compounded, no doubt, by the omnipresent recording angel), they relapse into barely modified versions of their former roles as tenders to the sick children. Life simply carries on, floating as effortlessly and aimlessly as the hospital itself over flood waters seven miles deep. A few relationships form, but only one bears the fruit of pregnancy - that of Jemma and Rob. At about the same time, the nearly medically incompetent Jemma is suddenly vested with extraordinary curative powers that radically alter life in the hospital and reshuffle everyone's roles and the pre-existing power structure in the "ark." Still, Jemma's powers are not limitless, and after a period of euphoria over everyone's well-being, a new disease nicknamed the botch appears that Jemma is unable to combat. A number of further strange events occur, and a new survivor is even plucked from the waters.
To say more about the story would reveal too much for prospective readers. Suffice it to say that this all leads to a somewhat unexpected and literarily satisfying conclusion that does neat poetic justice to the Noah's Ark story and portends well for the "new world." It is certainly arguable whether the resolution is worth the effort of slogging through a 615-page novel. I remain of mixed mind on that question, feeling a bit like someone who's finished running a marathon but thinks it would have been nice if the race had only been 20 miles instead of 26. Nevertheless, Chris Adrian has populated his tale with an engaging cast of supporting characters -- from Jemma's friend Vivian (the only survivor who sets out trying to determine why God would have brought the flood down upon the Earth), Drs. Snood and Sundae, the lesbian minister Father Jane (how transsexual is that?), the amnesiac survivor retrieved later from the waters (aptly christened Ishmael), and of course, the 701 surviving children, especially the blood-drinking Pickie Beecher and the psychopathic Jarvis - all of whom help pull the reader into the peculiar life of this peculiar floating hospital for 600-plus pages. As the New York Times Book Review stated, "To read Chris Adrian is to take part in the exciting process of watching a talented and original writer gain mastery of his powerful gifts." Amen to that, brothers and sisters.
Various emotions emerge throughout the novel, which gave me mixed feelings once I finished. On the one hand, the characters are there to persevere as the last people on the planet. They try to go about their daily lives, despite the state of the outside world (which is probably what would happen, in my opinion). On the other hand, the sadness is obviously there. There is a constant struggle between depression/hopelessness and hope/celebration.
Anyway, about halfway through the book, there's a mini-climax and the book loses momentum. At this point, I started losing interest in Jemma and paying more attention to Pickie and the stories about Calvin. It's worth reading to the end, definitely, to see what becomes of the ship's inhabitants (who wouldn't want to know how this turns out?). I sincerely hope there's a sequel, though, since I was intensely interested in the King's Daughter, and the mysteries surrounding Calvin and what exactly his death precipitated. The ending wasn't exactly the wrong ending; I just think the latter half of the novel could have followed other characters - or maybe Jemma could have finally started connecting the dots. After all, while her friend wonders exactly why the world flooded, Jemma seems distracted by the past and her own ghosts. Although gifted with powers, she's so down-to-earth - when really, there are supernatural forces at work. In that sense, I would have liked a more curious character to follow, one who actually pondered the meaning of her destiny.
Religion-wise, I'm surprised the characters didn't refer to the Bible more often, or that other religions were not mentioned. The hospital has such a diverse population; I wondered what non-Christians thought of this turn of events. The religious aspect is really not the main focus of the book.
The book has its flaws, but overall, definitely worth the money and the time. The characters were three-dimensional, and the vision of this hospital was unique and imaginative. So much detail was put into it that it felt very realistic. The angels were fun, too, particularly the preserving angel, who is supposed to comfort everyone but is generally a pain in the butt. I suggest reading the sample pages Amazon offers; if you like those, you will like this book. It's gory (c'mon, it's a hospital) and moving (end of the world, duh) and ironic and funny. Four stars for sure.