Ingenious Pain


by Andrew Miller

Born in the mid-18th century, James Dyer is unable to feel pain and becomes, in adulthood, a brilliant but heartless surgeon. On the way to St Petersburg, he meets a woman with magical powers who enables him to feel pain and his whole life is changed.


“What does the world need most–a good, ordinary man, or one who is outstanding, albeit with a heart of ice?” This is the question at the heart of Andrew Miller’s first novel, Ingenious Pain, a book set during the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment. The outstanding man in question is James Dyer, an English freak of nature who, since birth, has been impervious to physical pain. Not only does he feel no pain, but he recovers from all injuries in record time. By turns a shill for a quack pain-reliever at county fairs, an object of study by a wealthy collector of human oddities, and, eventually, a surgeon, James Dyer–and through him the reader–gains exposure to a panoply of 18th-century philosophical thought, medical practice, historic events, and larger-than-life rogues and heroes, both fictional and real.As a surgeon, James Dyer excels, and his inability to feel–whether physical pain himself or empathy for others–seems only to enhance his skill with a knife. James slices and dices and cures without a scintilla of compassion while his reputation grows, until at last he arrives in Russia and the mystery of his unusual quality is resolved.

Miller navigates his complicated story and exotic locales with unswerving confidence, bolstered, no doubt, by thorough research. James Dyer is not a character who invites love, but his adventures make for intelligent, deeply pleasurable reading.

Additional information

Book Condition

Used – Good




337 pages


1997 by Sceptre


Fiction, Historical, Historical Fiction


James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction (1997),
Premio Grinzane Cavour for Narrativa Straniera (1999),
Dublin Literary Award (1999)