A Love Like Blood, by Marcus Sedgwick, is about humans who are obsessed in differing ways with blood. I did not find it easy reading. There has been a lot of fiction written about vampires in recent years, but not so much about the desire to drink blood. This book is not about need (to sustain life) but desire. Perhaps to understand it one must be capable of empathising with those who struggle to differentiate between these two states, who feel justified in hurting others that their desires may be satisfied. They conflate desire with need and expect their actions to be understood and considered reasonable.
The book follows the life of Charles Jackson, a doctor who specialises in blood disorders. As a medic during the Second World War he stumbles across an unknown man in an underground bunker committing an act that horrifies and haunts him thereafter. When he unexpectedly encounters the man again a number of years later a series of events are set in motion that will eventually determine the course of his life. Love is mentioned but not acted upon. An apparent desire for justice becomes an obsession.
There are many points in the story when our protagonist could have walked away but chose not to. His career, his family and his friends become victims of his choices. He commits increasingly heinous acts that he justifies to himself as necessary for the greater good. It is only at the end that the reader is allowed to see how damaged this ‘hero’ has allowed himself to become.
The author raises some interesting questions, such as how the drinking of human blood can be regarded as abhorrent by so many yet is accepted as a form of worship in the Christian Church. He observes that the taking of human life, the spilling of blood, is punished as a major crime yet is encouraged in times of war. He ponders the paradox of meat eaters having such antipathy towards the consumption of human blood when they will ingest the blood of other species.
I found the constant references to blood throughout the book both educative and stomach churning. The turning of the artwork in the Sistene Chapel into something monstrous illustrates how even things of apparent beauty can become distorted by perception. Blood flow is necessary for life yet is also a cause of death.
The denouement was chilling but not a surprise. The story raised issues to ponder but also skewed meanings, just as Charles Jackson had skewed his thinking to justify the actions he wished to take. The progression of the tale reminded me of a clever orator who can sway a crowd with apparent logic, but whose consequential actions go against core beliefs. It is not the blood that is bad but what is done with it.
I very much enjoyed the way this book was written, its dark use of time and place, its chilling arguments and justifications. It was not an easy book to read but, having started it, I did not want to put it down. Recommended, but only for those with a strong disposition.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Mulholland Books.