Summary and book reviews of The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax

A Novel

by Liz Jensen

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2005, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2006, 240 pages

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Book Summary

The story of a family falling apart, told in the vivid voices of its comatose son and Dr. Dannachet as he is drawn into the family's circle. Full of astonishing twists and turns, this is a masterful tale of the secrets the human mind can hide.

Meet Louis Drax, the Amazing Accident-Prone Boy.


Louis Drax is a boy like no other. He is brilliant and strange, and every year something violent seems to happen to him. His psychologist is baffled, and his mother lives in constant panic. He has always managed to survive — to land on his feet, like a cat. But cats have only nine lives, and Louis has used up eight, one for every year.

On his ninth birthday, Louis goes on a picnic with his parents and falls off a cliff. The details are shrouded in mystery. Louis's mother is shell-shocked; his father has vanished. And after some confusion Louis himself, miraculously alive but deep in a coma, arrives at Dr. Pascal Dannachet's celebrated coma clinic.

Was the fall a mere accident? If anyone knows, they're not telling. Until one day, still deep within his coma, Louis meets the bandaged figure who calls himself Gustave, and begins to tell his tale…

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax is the story of a family falling apart, told in the vivid voices of its comatose son and Dr. Dannachet as he is drawn into the Draxes' circle. Full of astonishing twists and turns, this is a masterful tale of the secrets the human mind can hide.

Liz Jensen says.... "The inspiration for Louis Drax came from my own grandmother’s death in Switzerland in the 1930s. Her body was found at the bottom of a cliff, three days after her eldest son had vanished from the face of the earth. The mystery of how my grandmother died, and what happened to her lost son, was never solved. It cast a shadow across the whole family, and when I first heard it as a child, it haunted me.

But I didn’t want to write that story. Instead, I wanted to explore the emotions it evoked. I wanted to write something from the point of view of a young boy because I love the way my own boys talk, and I wanted to capture that playground idiolect. I don’t think that when I started writing the novel, it was going to turn out so dark. But it ended up as a ghost story. If it has an unsettling effect on people, I’m glad. It’s meant to. It was sometimes harrowing to write, because it took me to places I didn’t really want to go. But that’s part of what writing is about. It’s the risk and it’s the adventure. And reading is the same.

WARNING

I'm not most kids. I'm Louis Drax. Stuff happens to me that shouldn't happen, like going on a: picnic where you drown.

Just ask my maman what it's like being the mother of an accident-prone boy and she'll tell you. No fun. You can't sleep, wondering where it's going to end. You see danger everywhere and you think, Got to protect him, got to protect him. But sometimes, you can't.

Maman hated me before she loved me because of the first accident. The first accident was being born. It happened the same way as the emperor Julius Caesar. They stab the lady with a knife till her belly pops, and then they yank you out, all yelling and covered in blood. They thought I wouldn't make it out in the normal way, see. (Also gross.) Plus they thought she would die from it too, like Julius Caesar's mum, and they'd have to put our dead bodies in coffins, a big one for her and a kid-size one for me. Or maybe they'd put us both in the same...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
In Brief
Nine-year-old Louis Drax lies in a coma in a hospital bed, re-living the events that led to his near-fatal fall into a ravine. Despite being attracted to the boy's mother Natalie Drax, Louis' doctor, Pascal Dannachet, begins reluctantly to question her version of Louis' accident and the apparent culpability of her missing husband. As the boy struggles to communicate from within his coma, the chilling truth emerges.


In Detail
In this taut psychological thriller Liz Jensen explores the many ways in which people can manipulate one another, from perverting the close bonds of a mother-son relationship to the exploitation of pity and sexual attraction.

Louis is a deeply disturbed child to whom violence is ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

For everybody who thought they'd never see another novel like The Lovely Bones, a neurologist in Provence struggles to get a comatose nine-year-old to tell what put him into a persistent vegetative state. ....By turns disarmingly comical, absorbingly suspenseful, and finally shattering.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Jensen's gift for black humor and off-kilter narratives shines throughout this page-turner, and her understanding of fractured psyches and their ability to heal is remarkable. The idiosyncrasies of her peculiar characters only make them more engaging, and at the end of Jensen's gripping tale, the reader is left eager for more.

Booklist - Joanne Wilkinson

Here is the breakout novel--a literary thriller that's almost impossible to put down--for British writer Jensen (Egg Dancing, 1996).....This is sure to remind readers of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Time Out

Assured, hilarious, and insightful.

Mail on Sunday

Jensen is becoming one of our best writers, sometimes surreal, sometimes down to earth, always with a great and embracing human sympathy.

Author Blurb Fay Weldon
Sharp, funky, funny, and prophetic.

Author Blurb Anthony Minghella, director of The English Patient and Cold Mountain
Liz Jensen has written a remarkable suspense novel: tart, mysterious, and wrenching.

Reader Reviews

Erica

Louis Drax is a good read
I started this book and put it down, finding the manner in which Louis was talking at first, very offensive. I decided to give it another try, and I was glad I did. Although I was able to guess at the climax, because of the foreshadowing, there ...   Read More

Sarah

It might deserve a 3.65
Overall, this book really wasn't bad. I just wish that it had a better ending. At first I was very interested in the characters, and really enjoyed the the writing, but toward the end I couldn't have cared much less. Louis starts to take a ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Liz Jensen has written four books before this, but she describes The Ninth Life as her first 'grown up' book.

  • Egg Dancing (1996): 'Yes, the story is often overwhelmed by delusions, hallucinations and trips through altered reality. But Jensen has a real gift for wickedly black humor - and enough stylistic panache to hold a reader's attention firmly through the thicket of her excesses.' (Publishers Weekly)
  • Ark Baby (UK 1998, US 1999): 'Strained would-be satire, with its intellectual and narrative punch diluted by very obvious foreshadowing.' (Kirkus Reviews).
  • Paper Eater (2000 in UK, apparently not available ...

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