Barbara Hodgson

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The Sensualist

Hodgson, Barbara

Last Updated: Jan-25-1999
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel


Helen Martin is an expert on medical art. She travels by train through Europe--Vienna, Prague, and Munich--looking for her journalist husband who has vanished for a longer time than usual. Their marriage is childless and flat. On the train, she awakens to temporary but surreal changes in her body--her breasts are enormous, her thighs huge. She meets her alter ego, Rosa, an obese and aging woman doctor, and original owner of the sizable breasts and thighs.

Rosa’s gift of a strange book-like box, containing images from Vesalius, bones, vials, leads her to many other people, including a blind intellectual, a philosophical train conductor, and a soon-to-be-murdered museum curator. These people add objects to the box, while removing others and awakening her dormant senses and identity in the process.

Helen learns that her husband disappeared while researching a story about woodblocks from the great 1543 anatomical atlas by Andreas Vesalius. The woodblocks are believed to have been destroyed in the allied bombing of Munich in World War II, but Helen suspects some have survived. She picks up the work where he left it. The rediscovery of her husband--temporarily at home in Vancouver and irritated not to find her there--comes as an anti-climax. Helen realizes she does not want him any more and boards another train to we know not where.

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