It described itself on the back as 'a synesthetic novel' (or possibly 'synaesthetic'), was a short work of fiction (a very slender volume), and seemed to be from a small publisher, possibly self-published, likely released after 1999.

The young man's body is taken to a main building, where his body is gutted, restuffed with books and reanimated. Unaware, he's then set on a task by the head monk to learn the secrets of a magician/important man in a distant city. He ventures out to this city, ending up at some sort of strange bookdealer's place (books were involved, not sure that was the actual occupation). The man and his daughter were involved with some sort of secret society...recollections grow vauge here...at some point the young man wanders into a nearby forest/place outside the city and encounters local lizards who he's able to communicate with.

The man he's seeking has the ability to take animals preserved in formaldehyde and somehow inhale/experience their experiences and memories. The man's using this as more of a novelty, but the young man's been tasked with learning this skill to eventually acquire the knowledge of several people/monks in the city. As the young man goes around gaining the knowledge, he becomes increasingly gaunt and eventually stops eating altogether; the girl and her father are trying to help him, and the ending is ambiguous, with the young man upon gaining the last piece of knowledge possibly dying or somehow gaining paradise.

  • 8
    So.. Am I the only one who first read this as "studying to be a (monk who is struck by lightning)" instead of "(studying to be a monk) who is struck by lightning" ?
    – Izkata
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 2:13
  • 4
    @Izkata Why would you study to be a monk struck by lightning?
    – Neil
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 9:50
  • 8
    @Neil Today I shot a rabbit with a rifle at 100 yards. "Good thing you shot first!"
    – TLP
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 10:31

1 Answer 1


This is The Divinity Student by Michael Cisco.

The protagonist (we never learn his name) is struck by lightning and killed, and mysterious figures gut his body, stuff it with books and bring it back to life:

Quickly they bring him inside, lay him across two sawhorses and start cutting at him—they gut him like a fish, cut open from throat to waist, red hands pull his ribs apart, head and shoulders hanging down, his arms lying flat on the ground, tugged back and forth as they empty him out. They dump his contents cooked and steaming on the floor, and bring up stacks of books and manila folders, tearing out pages and shuffling out sheets of paper, all covered with writing, stuffing them inside, tamping them down behind his ribs and crushing them together in his abdomen.

I can't remember the book being described as synesthetic or synaesthetic but it's written in a hallucinatory style and is somewhat mind mangling to read.

The student is sent by the head monk on a mission to reconstruct a missing work called the Catalogue, though I don't think it was every clear precisely what this is.

The experiences of the animals are relived by pickling them in formaldehyde then breathing in a mist of the formaldehyde that the animal has been steeped in (don't try this at home!).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.