It is 1963 in the American Deep South, a land divided by colour and prejudice. Here, the Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow laws hold sway. Twelve-year-old Black orphan Pip is bought for $75 by Zachary, an elderly white farmer, as a companion and carer for his bedridden wife, Lilybelle. Pip’s only possession is a copy of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, which belonged to his mother. He tends to Lilybelle with great care and he reads to her from his book, and a bond grows between them. He slowly falls in love with Hannah, the mute Native American servant girl, and his life might have been bearable if it wasn’t for Zachary’s and Lilybelle’s brutal and possibly insane ex-Vietnam veteran son Erwin, who is the County Leader of the KKK. Pip and Hannah are befriended by their Irish neighbour, Professor Jack Morrow, the hypnotist of the title, and it is with Jack’s help that they survive the dangerous world they live in and build a future together.
The Hypnotist is a story of prejudice and segregation, of looming danger and great brutality, but it is also a story of love and hope. The characters, unusual and beautifully drawn, glow on the page, and there is a thread of magical realism to the narrative that at times lifts it above the dust and heat and ugliness of the setting and the history of the time. The details of Jack Morrow’s ability as a hypnotist are fascinating, and the story of Pip’s early childhood, which Jack helps him to revisit, is poignant. A timeline of the historical events of 1963 is helpfully included. This is a wonderful book with real heart, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.