The Anatomy lesson is a poorly-written and bloated novel, nothing but a slog of a let-down.
Its pedigree is promising: six years spent in Amsterdam, a former New York Times writer, rave reviews from fellow authors and an MFA. Pedigree, in this instance, has no claim on the quality of the novel, of the writing, of the novel’s coherence or anything else.
Whole sections of the book are nothing but useless bloat and should have been cut.
“Most excellent and ornate men of Amsterdam: Honorable Burgomaster Bicker, Amsterdam burghers, gentlemen of the Stadtholder’s court, magistrates, inspectors Collegii Medici, physicians, barber-surgeons, apothecaries, apprentices, and public visitors to our chamber, on behalf of the Amsterdam Surgeon’s Guild, it is my greatest honor to welcome you all to the Amsterdam theatrum anatomicum on this, the opening night of the winter festival 1632.”
That claptrap goes on and on and on. For 13 pages. Thirteen pages of pure, pointless claptrap.
The plot is, the lead up to Rembrandt painting The Anatomy Lesson. That’s it. So, really, there is no plot. There is no middle and there is no end. There is no conclusion to most of the story lines.
The publishers touts at least seven narrators, none of whom are given enough time to develop into characters. It is unclear at best, purely bad writing at worst, whom the narrators are speaking to, especially as the narration goes from first to third persons. Then the narration goes from past tense to present tense to past tense. Then one of the characters is flying over the city, trying to atone for his minor sins. Because that belongs in a historical fiction novel.