I was recently asked whether there was any connection between my critically lauded book about the TV series House, M.D. (Chasing Zebras, ECW Press, 2010) and my novel The Apothecary’s Curse. It’s a great question, and one I hadn’t really thought about very much until now.
I had been drawn (to put it mildly) to House, M.D. by Hugh Laurie’s complex and brilliant portrayal of the caustic, troubled diagnostician Dr. Gregory House. I loved that, through Laurie’s performance, I could see beneath the sarcasm and anti-social behavior a deeply thoughtful intellectual, equally at home with Bach and Monster Trucks. I loved his flat with its stuffed bookshelves and often wondered what they contained. I loved the artifacts with which he surrounded himself, steeped in the history and science of another time. His world was complex and surprising and I found myself completely immersed in it.
House was essentially Sherlock Holmes time-warped into 21st Century New Jersey and slapped with a medical degree. I’ve read the entire canon of Holmes (the Conan Doyle and few other later pastiches), and much more than the plots and mysteries of the Holmes stories, I really gravitated to what they all said about Holmes, himself, through the eyes of John Watson, his best friend and confidante (and partner in crime–solving).
So how does that bring me to The Apothecary’s Curse and its main characters Gaelan Erceldoune and Dr. Simon Bell? Like House, M.D., there is the Holmes connection, which is probably the most direct link. The character of Simon Bell is a direct relation of Joseph Bell, Arthur Conan Doyle’s medical mentor (Conan Doyle was a doctor as well as a writer). Joseph Bell was also Conan Doyle’s touchstone for Sherlock Holmes. And in the present-day timeline of the novel, which is split between early Victorian London and modern Chicago, Simon is a very successful author of Holmes pastiches. Or, as Simon likes to say of himself, a purveyor of “Victorian mysteries written by a Victorian mystery”).
The novel is touched with a bit of Conan Doyle fairy dust, let’s just say, as incongruous as that sounds to those who only know the author’s Holmes stories. I can’t say that either Gaelan or Simon are Holmesian characters like House and Wilson, but the relationship between the two men is as banter-filled and (hopefully) as interesting as as the one between House and Wilson’s on House, M.D.
Over the years of House, M.D. I wrote a weekly column for Blogcritics about the show. I never wrote recaps, but would rather plunge into the themes, characters and relationships explored in the series. Those columns led to Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D.
I had the rare and wonderful opportunity over those years to deconstruct many of the most memorable House episodes with the series writers, producers, production designers and show-runners during numerous interviews. Along with scrutinizing the episodes, and studying the scripts for most them, my conversations with so many on the House creative team provided me with not only incredible insight into the series itself, but also how the talented creative team at House, M.D. sustained characters and narrative arcs over seven seasons, not only with dialogue, but with music, set design–detail that tells as much as a page of talking. How to pull the rug out from under readers (or viewers) just at the time they think they know where the story is going. As David Shore put it, put in a “left turn” just when you don’t expect it. How to keep a character just likable “enough” when need be.
Although House was a television series, so much is applicable to creating a deeply textured, layered novel. Sights, sounds, textures, even lighting are critical to storytelling–even (or perhaps especially) in a novel. Perhaps that’s why several people who’ve read Apothecary along the way have called it cinematic. They can “see” the story.
I was incredibly thrilled (and grateful) when House, M.D. co-executive producer/writer Doris Egan agreed to read Apothecary and was kind enough to write a blurb for the back of The Apothecary’s Curse:
“Myth, medicine, and immortality, braided together like the border of an illuminated manuscript.”
Another of my favorite television writers, the inimitable Jane Espenson (Buffy, Battlestar Galactica, Once Upon a Time) also kindly wrote a blurb:
“Looking for a new narrative world lovingly furnished with the craft and care of an older time? This book feels like Holmes.”
In the character of House, I found the archetype I always seek when reading or watching pretty much everything: that classic (or not-so-classic) Byronic hero. I find them only rarely, and when I do, it’s like magic for me. I can’t pull myself away from the screen; I can’t tear myself away from the next chapter in the novel.
I’ve always felt that one day I would create my own Byronic hero, and in Gaelan Erceldoune, I believe I have. So I hope you feel the same, and if you enjoyed House, M.D. and if you were one of the many thousands who read my weekly columns about House on Blogcritics or read my book Chasing Zebras (still available on Amazon–hint, hint), I think you might find The Apothecary’s Curse a good read.
Of course there were many more inspirations than House, M.D. But that’s for a different column, so feel free to ask 🙂
I invite you to read The Apothecary’s Curse from Amazon.com or your favorite bookseller, or tell your local library to order a copy or two. And, of course, pre-order Alchemy of Glass, out in almost exactly two months. And please make sure to follow me on Twitter, Goodreads and right here at BarbaraBarnett.com to learn of online launch events and local Chicago appearances and signings.