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Blood: A Biography of the Stuff of Life, by Lawrence Hill, Oneworld, RRP£9.99, 320 pages
You have to admire Lawrence Hill’s ambition. The Canadian writer has set out to tell the story of “the stuff of life” – blood. It spills into almost everything, he says, but the volume of his subject is bound to cause problems.
Hill is fascinating on how the science of blood evolved. He makes an impassioned case, too, against the myth of “purity”, responsible for racism, and writes movingly of his own experiences, such as when a transfusion saved his life. His premise – that blood divides and unites – is convincing.
But, too often, the book feels like a catalogue of blood-related incidents. Equally, while Hill is alive to the symbolic significance of blood, considering everything from Greek mythology to Twilight, his own prose can run away with him (in the space of three pages, blood is compared with “a happy workaholic”, “a stagehand” and “planet earth”). Hill is a compelling storyteller but the editor’s scalpel could have been sharper.