Author(s): Christine Sparks
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Year of Publication: 1980 (republished in 1986)
Number of Pages: 288
Genre: Biography, Non-Fiction
The Elephant Man (Amazon UK) | The Elephant Man (Amazon US)
Books that are based on a film are always difficult to craft, especially when most of your audience know what’s coming, but Sparks’ ability to accurately convey the poignancy that encapsulated the entirety of Joseph* Merrick’s life was more than enough to overcome this obstacle.
When reading, you have to actively engage with the words in order to absorb them, hence why the evocation of emotion is so much more potent in this scenario as opposed to the film, which simply requires you to sit back and passively watch. Both will inevitably make you teary-eyed, but my point is that through the medium of books you feel as if you are there with him, suffering as much as he through the incidents that we see occur.
Merrick was a man who, because of a slew of severe facial deformities (which were later conjectured to be Proteus Syndrome) lived a very isolated lifestyle due to his fear of being ridiculed and tormented. These worries were justified, however, as he spent his late adolescence through to his mid-twenties as a part of a freak-show. It was here that he was dubbed a freak for the first time, aggressively manhandled and beaten, whilst also being fed a bare minimum in his decrepit domain within the show’s grounds. Alone, cold and scared; can you imagine the terrors he must have endured throughout his short, turbulent life?
Sparks’ writing gracefully flows from page to page, allowing you to become lost within the world she so expertly describes. As a result, you feel the angst, the dread, as well as the sheer terror that Merrick has to endure; it’s rare to read a book that can evoke so much emotion. Perhaps it’s because Merrick was a real person who truly faced these abhorrent incidents that we feel so deeply saddened by reading it.