THE HYPNOTIST BY LAURENCE ANHOLT
PUBLISHED BY PENGUIN BOOKS
REVIEW BY KRIS WILLIAMS
The first thing to say about this book is that it is a very good read. The second is that The Hypnotist tackles some very heavy themes. It is set in the American Deep South during the 60s. This was a time of change and upheaval as black Americans were starting to find their voice in a place where race defined you. The Klu Klux Klan was still dominant in the southern states and racial tension was close to the surface of daily life.
The story is told from two perspectives. Jack is a Professor of Neurology at a local University and Pip is an orphaned black boy who has been sold by the orphanage to a white farmer, Mr Zachary, and taken miles away from his home to be a farm hand and carer for his wife Lillybelle. Jack is also a hypnotist. Jack offers to teach Pip and Hannah, a young mute girl who also works at the farm, to read and write, building a friendship that becomes important to them all.
Pip settles into life on the farm and builds a relationship with Lillybelle who he reads to every day. He tries to get to know Hannah who wants nothing to do with him. Mr Zachary also warms to Pip and shows him kindness in his own gruff way. Jack lives in a home that overlooks Dead River Farm making him neighbours with Mr Zachary. Jack watches the comings and goings of the farm and soon realises that Pip and Hannah are not safe from Mr Zachary’s son Erwin. Erwin is an “angry, Negro-hating, Vietnam vet and also a leader of the local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan”. Mr Zachary and Lillybelle both fear his presence and warn Pip to stay out of his way. He does just that until the day Erwin finally catches him.
Anholt writes in dialect e.g. ‘Wal, the dawg tawk more’n you …Ye know how t’ roll a cig’rette?’ This might be a bit hard to grasp at first, but becomes easier as you read.
Not only is this book a coming of age story, it is a story of human rights, racism, love and friendship. Parallels between then and now with all that is happening in our world can easily be drawn. Thoroughly recommend The Hypnotist for those aged 12 and up.
Find this novel in store at Planet Books. Ask the friendly staff for guidance too, and they’ll be more than happy to order you in a copy if it’s already sold out.