The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen was published in 2004. It was Jensen’s fifth novel.
Louis Drax is an accident prone boy. Ever since he was a baby he has been involved in more than his fair share of near fatal accidents. But so far they have all been just that, ‘nearly’ but not wholly ‘fatal’. On his ninth birthday, however, things may change for the worse. Louis may never come out alive from this ‘accident’.
The story is narrated by two of the central characters, the protagonist Louis Drax and his physician Dr. Dannachet. Louis’ narration includes snippets from his past life and a vision of his inner world. Dr. Dannachet’s narrative deals with the present.
Louis’ voice I found to be less than convincing. He does not sound or act like a nine year old, gifted or otherwise. But his narrative is interesting. Especially as his memories very slowly reveal an extremely disturbed past, a past which gives clues to his present state. Dr. Dannachet’s narration was good too.
The narrative is fast paced. I found myself totally engrossed with it from the word go and finished it pretty quickly.
Most of the male characters do not understand the reality of the situation until it’s almost too late. I found their blindness disconcerting. All the women on the other hand catch on to the truth pretty fast. The detective in charge Stephanie Charvillefort, Louis’ grandmother Lucille and his aunt are all almost wholly aware of the truth but have a tough time proving anything.
Why on earth does Dr. Dannachet fall in love with the frigid Natalie Drax? She is abnormally hostile and unfriendly. Just because she has a ‘perfectly oval shaped face’? Or is it because she seems so fragile? It was really irritating to see him acting like a fool around her.
The character of Natalie Drax is complicated. As we see her mostly from the point of view of a young child and a man obsessed with her, I had a difficult time understanding her. Is she really as black or white as she seems or is there something more behind it all?
Dr. Dannachet annoyed me but with all his faults he felt real. Pierre Drax is a character I genuinely felt sorry for. His ultimate fate bothered me. The character of Marcel Perez surprised me.
Liz Jensen is a capable writer. She handles this extremely disturbing story well.
Jensen makes it all feel real without making it all gloomy or ghoulish. I could feel Dr. Dannachet’s exhaustion, the stifling summer heat and the threat of forest fires looming over the clinic. Like when Dr. Dannachet describes his obsession with Natalie it feels real,
“A mixture of feelings- love, distaste, revulsion, pity- rose in my throat…There was an eternity to that moment, that see-sawing split- second when adoration clung and then lurched, spilling into chaos, rage, hate, anger: the desire to smash and embrace, love and destroy. Betrayal does that…Shows you how worthless love is, when its object is indifferent, ruthless, no more than a machine for surviving.”
I didn’t really like the author using the word ‘bla bla bla’ a large number of times. It was sort of irritating.
The final twist I saw coming for some time. It is not really original but that doesn’t really take away much from the story.
The book is not that long which is a good thing. I think if it were any longer the story would have felt drawn out and tedious. A quick resolution is the best thing about a book of this genre.
The Ninth Life of Louis Drax is one strange story. What happens in the story is not wholly un-guessable but whatever it is, it is twisted. Overall, this is an enjoyable psychological thriller.
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