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Derby Day: A Novel
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Derby Day: A Novel

3.29  ·  Rating Details ·  469 Ratings  ·  97 Reviews
As the shadows lengthen over the June grass, all England is heading for Epsom Down—high life and low life, society beauties and White chapel street girls, bookmakers and gypsies, hawkers and thieves. Hopes are high, nerves are taut, hats are tossed in the air—this is Derby Day.

For months people have been waiting and plotting for this day. Everyone’s eyes are on champion ho
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published April 1st 2012 by Pegasus (first published January 1st 2011)
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Apr 05, 2012 Felice rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ahhhh… Victorian novels. What don’t I love about them? Certainly not their size. Those Victorians wrote some chubby books God bless them. The time period, the plots, I love it all. Every once in a while you find a contemporary writer who can produce a Victorian novel: The Quincunx by Charles Palliser, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters and The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber come to mind. Now add to that list
Derby Day by D.J. Taylor.

The heroes of Derby Day are author D.J. Taylor for writi
Sep 04, 2011 Elaine rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
The only "mystery" in this book (despite the billing) is why I read the whole (quite lengthy) thing. The book is structured as if it were a complex puzzle, and you read it, accordingly, with extremely close attention to detail at the beginning, but eventually it becomes evident that there is no mystery to be solved and that the book's multitude of narratives won't come together, but will simply end. All the characters are trite -- the rogue, the down on his luck scion of a good family, the roman ...more
Pixie Dust
I had mixed feelings about this Booker-nominated novel. I was initially quite excited to read it. Historical fiction set in the Victorian era with a mystery thrown in. What’s not to like? And indeed, there’s certainly something very mature and polished in Taylor’s writing, with the style approximating late Victorian writing rather closely.

But the similes and metaphors that were at first so entertaining with their wittiness soon grew rather tiresome, as there is too much in the same style. For e
Kirsty Darbyshire
I enjoyed reading this but am not quite sure what to make of it. It's billed as a "Victorian mystery" but didn't really seem to contain many elements of a mystery to me as it's a fairly straightforward story of misdoings in the horse racing world. It's written in some kind of Victorian style which I don't know enough about to talk about - I don't know whether it's a pastiche or satire or something else like that. It's an entertaining enough story on the surface but I suspect I am missing the dep ...more
Gayla Bassham
This book is written in a very fun and engaging way and you will most likely have a rollicking good time while reading it. Having said that, I could not escape a feeling at the end that there was no there there. Entertaining but ultimately (I suspect) forgettable. But the ride is thoroughly enjoyable for as long as it lasts.
Sep 13, 2013 Romily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a skilful and subtly ironic re-working of a Victorian novel. The main difference is that the plot, centring round the betting and speculation on horses leading up to the Epsom Derby is tightly controlled with very few digressions, except where the author wants to set the scene - especially that of Derby Day itself, which uses the panoramic painting by Frith for inspiration. There are obvious and intentional echoes of Dickens and other Victorian novelists in the characters and description ...more
John  Bellamy
Aug 12, 2012 John Bellamy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Surely we are living in a new Silver Age of the Victorian sensational novel, and long may it continue. There have been many superlative entries in this happily revived genre—the works of Caleb Carr, Sarah Waters, Michael Cox and Clare Clark come to mind—but D. J. Taylor seems to have set the gold standard with Derby Day. Part mystery, part crime novel and utterly a suspense thriller, it owes much to its many Victorian models—the works of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, the Bronte sisters, Mrs. ...more
Apr 02, 2012 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

If you loved Bleak House and other Dickens novels, you will enjoy Derby Day. Taylor presents a cast of characters who are all interconnected by a horse Tiberius, who is destined to run the race at Epsom in 1866. Taylor
plays homage to Dickens and I enjoyed the novel immensely.
Dec 23, 2015 Bookslut rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: victorian
I give this a two with reservations; it significantly undershot my expectations. Taylor's earlier novel, Kept, was brilliant. This was a lot of polish and pizazz without much of a book underneath. Glitzy, schmaltzy writing that could never make me care about what was happening. The subtitle is a misnomer. Unless I really misunderstood the whole book, there is no mystery. The reader is well-informed at all points in the straightforward story. So well, in fact, that I thought I must be missing som ...more
Jul 23, 2012 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having finished Derby Day, I can say that it's a solid detective story in the vein of Dickens, with a cast of dozens of colorful British characters...a governess, a spurned blue-stocking wife, a "sporting man" who's a cad, old lawyers, canny housemaids, etc. The writing was engaging enough that I did not mind learning how about horse-racing, a subject that did not greatly interest me before. Will try to find other books by this writer.
Dec 19, 2012 Kathleen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kathleen by: Jonathan Yardley
Just the mention of a Victorian style of novel populated by nefarious characters, the rich horsey-set among other people had my interest. It was the culminating Derby at Epsom that sealed the be read and enjoyed without delay!
Jun 18, 2015 Beth rated it really liked it
Unexpectedly engrossing Victorian-style novel that made me want to read The Quincunx again. Don't miss this one even if you have no interest whatsoever in horse racing. I didn't remember this being on the Booker longlist last year, but the nomination was well-deserved.
Jun 13, 2012 Harriet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a delightful book, well written with a charming voice about horse racing in the late 1800's. The characters are well drawn and interesting particularly
Rebecca and Mr. Happerton, but all of them are unique in their own way. The period is beautifully portrayed.
Carey Combe
Feb 09, 2012 Carey Combe rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Trite, unpleasant characters - none of which I could be bothered to find out more about.
Nancy Oakes
Although several people following this year's entries on the Booker Prize Longlist may not agree on its placement on the list, I don't really give a toss. Derby Day is a fun and entertaining novel, and provides for a few hours of total escape. It's a good book, and I rather enjoyed it.

Like his book Kept (which I read some time ago and really enjoyed), Derby Day is subtitled "A Victorian Mystery," and there is enough intrigue and foul play scattered throughout the novel's 400+ pages to keep a my
For a book that was listed (whether long or short) for a literary prize I did actually enjoy this. I particularly enjoyed the Classical references that were scattered (mainly horses) and the odd Norfolk reference (though i doubt many people will know where the Wensum is).

However, there was some editorial/continuity issues, which if you're reading it every so often you probably wouldn't notice, but I read it in two halves so did. This was a small irritant, mainly because this was long listed for
Jul 19, 2015 Briynne rated it really liked it
This was a wonderful, charming book. The author is a William Makepeace Thackeray biographer, and his affection for his subject is widely felt throughout the novel. He manages Thackeray’s blend of comedy and social commentary beautifully without ever seeming like he is imitating.

The novel, as the title suggests, centers around the lives of several “sporting gentlemen” and their wives, associates, enemies, and victims in the months leading up to the year’s biggest horse race. I loved the characte
Jaclyn Day
A few years ago I made a pact with myself that if I wasn’t enjoying a book, I’d stop reading it and move on to the next. Before that I’d had a hard time stopping a book midway through, even when I hated what I was reading. I figured that I owed it to someone (the author? myself?) to see it through to completion.

Well, I almost gave up Derby Day. I read it faithfully every night and each time, I’d tell Brandon, “I don’t know how much more of this I can read.” Yet, despite my silly pact giving me l
Jo-anne Atkinson
In Victorian England the Epsom Derby was the race that the entire country looked forward to each year. Assiduously following the form and reports about the horses and their owners, fortunes were won or lost on the result and the the best horse didn't always win the race. One of the favourites for the race is Tiberius, owned by an impoverished Lincolnshire gentleman called Davenant. However Mr Davenant's debts mean that Tiberius falls into the hands of Mr Happerton, recently married to the only d ...more
Aug 09, 2014 Brittany rated it liked it
You know how you shouldn't go to the grocery when you're really hungry because you come home with frozen burritos and spicy salami and other things you'd never ordinarily order and won't actually consume once you stave off the ravening edge of starvation? Maybe the library is the same way. I went to the library in a bit of a reading slump, and saw this book sitting on the shelf with a bunch of other horse novels (most of which I had already read.) It had horses on the cover, referenced a race in ...more
Catherine Woodman
Nov 16, 2013 Catherine Woodman rated it liked it
I read this book because it was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2011, and I had yet to read it.

The story is set in London and environs during a few weeks in the reign of Queen Victoria, it is not merely a work of historical fiction but one written in a language appropriate to its time — i.e., it is a Victorian novel. It is fun and can be read purely as such, yet it is also a serious novel about a society caught between the familiar and the new, in which “the world is changing” and leavin
Jul 09, 2013 Tonymess rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Since the days of Adam, there has been hardly a mischief done in this world but a woman has been at the bottom of it. “Barry Lyndon” William Makepeace Thackeray

This is not a quote used in "Derby Day", but a pertinent one I think! It is not just the acknowledgement and a couple of quotes from Thackeray that shows D.J. Taylor’s affinity and connection with the 19th Century novelist.

Plans were all in place to have this one read and reviewed just prior to the Victoria Racing Club Derby that was run
Jul 05, 2015 Dody rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys Wilkie Collins, Dickens, A.S. Byatt, Charles Palliser, Martin Davies
I love Wilkie Collins and Derby Day was a well written Victorian pastiche. I loved it and finished it in two days. It was indeed, for me, a page turner. I do think you have to like this sort of book, I am reminded of The Quincunx and would stress this is the nature of the book. Some of the reviewers do not think there was a mystery. I don't agree. There was indeed a mystery which was the entirety of the plot and while it wasn't an Agatha Christy sort of "who done it," you know who is doing what ...more
Aug 11, 2012 Kay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
Ah, there's nothing like the Victorian novel for soothing the blood while stimulating the mind. Taylor clearly acknowledges that one of his protagonists, Rebecca Gresham, is cut from the same cloth as Thackeray's Becky Sharpe. Like Becky, Rebecca is fascinating, no matter how the reader disapproves of her cold, calculating ways. The story proceeds at a stately but relentless pace to Derby Day, when the outcome will determine the fate of nearly everyone in the book. All the color--and squalor--of ...more
Nov 04, 2012 Sheri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The cover labels this "a Victorian mystery" and that's just what it is: Set in Victorian England with a large and wonderfully odd set of characters and a plot that centers on an up-and-coming self-made schemer who wants to be a rich gentleman by means of marriage, a sponsored burglary, forcing others into poverty, and a thrown horse race. Nicely written, clever and often very witty, with plenty of entertaining little asides from period racing publications, guides to Victorian etiquette, and inst ...more
Michael Raleigh
Dec 07, 2015 Michael Raleigh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed Derby Day by D.J. Taylor, with some reservations. On the positive side, it is beautifully written and realized, a genuinely Victorian novel in the best sense. There are many characters, all of them interesting, some of them quite amusing, and a great sense of both place and the time.

Also, Derby Day made me laugh quite a bit -- the machinations of the various con artists involved in Taylor's plot are very amusing.

My reservation about Derby Day? There is really no protagonist. The
Apr 08, 2012 Bonnie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent novel nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Derby Day tells the story of a race at Epsom Down during the 19th century and the plotting to insure a winner. The main characters, Mr. and Mrs. Happerton, are suited for each other as they manipulate elder Mr. Gresham with a strong sedative to acquire his money to buy a race horse known as Tiberius. Although the daughter, Rebecca, is unknowing at first, she quickly joins her husband in beguiling her father into loaning 12,ooo lbs for the endea ...more
Grace Harwood
I really enjoyed Taylor's "Kept" and couldn't put it down, so I was looking forward to this book as an atmospheric Victorian mystery story. Sadly, it never really got going for me. The story seemed fragmented and not quite cohesive. The characters were elusive - I knew about as much about Mrs Rebecca at the end of the book as I did at the start - she has sandy hair and green eyes and an air of something unnerving about her. Mr Happerton had outlandish taste in clothes and a love of money but I d ...more
Denise Elliott
I chose this because it was on the Booker shortlist and because of the William Frith painting which I love. I hoped the author would capture some of that victorian melodrama and the author does try to capture the style of Wilkie Collins and the novel has many of the elements but somehow it just fails to get them to come together. Maybe it is because the reader is party to the cam and the plans from the beginning which means there are no surprises and therefore no suspense. I fact I think I would ...more
Andy Weston
Aug 04, 2012 Andy Weston rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My campaign for decimal places is revived for this novel - for me 4.5 stars.

Taylor does well to entertain readers who are not hose racing lovers, and that is the big secret of a sporting novel. So few achieve that.

The period, characters and the story are strong. London in the 1860s is brought to life. Sport was almost completely about gambling then, and not surprisingly dirty work was afoot.

The quotations at the start of each chapter are excellent, as are the occasional short chapters when the
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David John Taylor (born 1960) is a critic, novelist and biographer. After attending school in Norwich, he read Modern History at St John's College, Oxford, and has received the 2003 Whitbread Biography Award for his life of George Orwell.

He lives in Norwich and contributes to The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, New Statesman and The Spectator among other publications.

He is married
More about D.J. Taylor...

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“And so the pair of them went on in the big, draughty house, with the carriages rushing in the square beyond, irritating each other as only two people who are united by blood and detached by temperament can do.” 4 likes
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