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The Great Stink

3.48  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,041 Ratings  ·  171 Reviews
It is 1855, and engineer William May has returned home to his beloved wife from the battlefields of the Crimea. He secures a job transforming London's sewer system and begins to lay his ghosts to rest. Above ground, his work is increasingly compromised by corruption, and cholera epidemics threaten the city. But it is only when the peace of the tunnels is shattered by murde ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published October 3rd 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2005)
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Feb 02, 2010 Hannah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People with indoor plumbing!
Recommended to Hannah by: Barb
This book is shitty. No, honestly, it's shitty. Any book titled "The Great Stink" better deliver, and this one does in the shittiest possible way.

In 1855, William May returns from the Crimean War - shell shocked and without hope. He soon begins a job as an engineer with the city of London as a team of them begins the process of transforming the underground sewers from a fetid cesspool of death and disease into a modern, industrial-age architectural triumph of sanitary efficiency. May begins to f
Jim Loter
I just read a gaggle of other reviews on here and I've concluded that it is impossible to summarize The Great Stink without making some kind of pun about malodorousness or shit. Nevertheless, I will try.

The novel lingers on the putrid conditions both above and below the streets of Victorian London. The text practically drips with toxic sludge and noisome fog. Indeed, the city's sewers - in particular, their ineffectiveness - are the primary setting of the story and container of its many plot poi
Oct 09, 2009 Bryce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Extremely uneven; large sections of the book are tremendously compelling, but equally long sections are very, very tedious. Still, the setting is interesting and the characters are unusual. Worth a read.
Sarah Rogers
Mar 30, 2008 Sarah Rogers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
VERY descriptive of sewers. But worth it in the end. Do not try to read this book on a lunch break, unless you are on a diet.
Ron Charles
Nov 27, 2013 Ron Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Clare Clark's first novel starts in the gutter and goes downhill from there. But that's entirely appropriate for her fantastic thriller set in mid-19th century London, where "on a hot day the stink could knock you flat." Most of the action in this outrageous story takes place in the sewers swelling with excrement from 2 million people. If cleaning your bathroom turns you green or the thought of using the toilet plunger raises your gorge, jump immediately to the next review. In this novel, poop h ...more
Dec 20, 2008 Terence rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 08, 2008 Sarah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: quit
I was excited to read this. Until I read the first page.
I really enjoyed this dirty, grimy, gritty novel set in London in 1855. Clare Clark takes her time familiarizing the reader with the polluted and overpopulated city and it's filthy and inadequate sewer system. She creates interesting characters set in a vivid and richly textured setting and takes her time laying this dark and sometimes disturbing ground work before creating the tension of conflict for her characters. She describes the many horrid smells of London in graphic detail and reveals th ...more
Jul 28, 2008 Amy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Não consigo ver este livro como um romance histórico mas antes como um simples livro sobre um caso de assassinato e consequente procura de libertar uma pessoa que inocentemente foi acusada, sendo salva por um golpe de sorte que o advogado, inexperiente e a tratar do seu primeiro caso, teve. Familiar? Sim, uma receita requentada já vista em alguns filmes de Hollywood que, neste romance, por acaso se dá na Londres Vitoriana, na altura do então denominado "great stink" ou "grande fedor", quando a c ...more
Sep 03, 2012 Simon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Great Stink by Clare Clark (
This book is not for anyone who is at all squeamish about sewers and what goes on in sewers or anyone who has olfactory Synaesthesia that means they can smell something from its description.
I’ll also be grateful that this book isn’t a scratch and sniff version as The Great Stink of the title is the period of London history in the 19th century that led to our current sewer system being built by Bazalgette which is a major part of this fantastic stor
Julia H.
Feb 24, 2008 Julia H. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a VERY difficult book to read (it literally made me sick to my stomach) and I probably wouldn't have finished it if a friend hadn't enthusiastically recommended it to me.

It takes place in London, and most of the story takes place in Victorian sewers where engineers are trying to figure out how to flush out the sewage into the Thames to control disease and of course, the smell.

What makes the story so difficult to read is that the main character is a war veteran who is still haunted/traum
Apr 11, 2012 Maya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a most unusual book. A murder mystery set in Victorian England does not invoke anything out of the ordinary but... this story revolves around the woefully inadequate sewage system and an engineer who was chosen to assist in the design to modernize it. The main character, William May, is a truly disturbed man whose effort to tame his demons, within the literal bowels of the great city, fails him on every level.
Clark is almost Dickensian in that she is verbose and descriptive almost to a
Jul 26, 2009 Susan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A soldier who is mentally as well as physically damaged in the Crimean war goes home to London to work as an engineer on the sewer system, and finds comfort in being in the sewers and in cutting himself. Lots of dog fighting (against rats captured in the sewers), bribery, cruelty, a murder. The descriptions of the “better” lunatic asylum were chilling. It was hard to connect to the characters (except for the dog, Lady), and I read it quickly rather than savoring it, just to be done with it. Howe ...more
Jan 31, 2016 Juanita rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review: The Great Stink by Clare Clark

Well, not what I expected. After a slow start, I got through the obtrusive prominent smell, slimy gooey underground walls and walking through brown dirty mud and dodging floating live and dead rats through the twist and turns of the sewer system below London. I recuperated and adjusted to the story and have to say the plot, characters, murder and crimes were well organized, developed and interesting. After saying that, I did end up enjoying the book. I think
Apr 30, 2007 Rivkah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who love great, disgusting discriptions
I am currently gobbling this book with much revulsion. It describes the deteriorating London sewer in the Victorian era. Even more disgusting than the filth and putrid smell of the sludge is the great society that is producing it. This is a great tale of vile character, mental illness, and shit. **I finished this book and have to say that I was a little disappointed by the ending. It seemed too predictable. However, if I was going to recommend a predictable book, this would be the one.**
Pat Stearman
I seem to be in the minority amongst our reading group in that I actually enjoyed this, despite the author trying to put off her readership from the start by her detailed descriptions of the sights, sounds and particularly smells of the pre-Bazalgette London sewers!
I enjoyed the characters and the weaving of the stories, although I find descriptions of the wanderings of distressed minds to be difficult to be gripped by. They should be difficult to read but, like dream sequences, I find myself
Russell Bittner
Apr 11, 2016 Russell Bittner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I must confess that it cost me a couple of chapters to get into Clare Clark’s The Great Stink. Her mechanics are fine; her word-choice, excellent; but her descriptions are a bit too much in her head. Dialogue is sparse, and the narrative—perhaps her aim—is initially underground, both figuratively and literally. It could be her intention that her readers should have to grope in these first two chapters; if so, mission accomplished. But the result, at least at first, is a story one has to fight t ...more
May 22, 2011 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't know if I was going to be able to get into this book at first. The first two chapters were hard for me to follow and I was a little put off by the fact that there was no dialogue. But once I hit chapter 3 the book just got better and better. I felt as though I could not put it down. Interesting take on historical London. The author made you feel like you were there within the sewers.
Helle Sannig
Oct 24, 2010 Helle Sannig is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Great book - a whole new take on the historical Great Stink in London in 1858 by a writer I didn't even know. It is fascinating and frightening and I've never before encountered a writer who could describe smells the way Clare Clark can!

The suspense (and the smells) get you from the first page.
A great read!
Dorothy Flaxman
A tale of murder and deceit set beneath the streets of London where sewers sprawl for miles and infested tunnels stoke raging epidemics. This is where William May goes to work. He is part of a team charged with shoring up this subterranean realm and, as his wife often reminds him, though the assignment is gruelling it is nonetheless a plum job.

William is haunted by memories of the Crimean War and his work brings unexpected peace to his troubled mind. However, once he uncovers a web of government
Graham Crawford
Apr 16, 2014 Graham Crawford rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This one had me hooked from the first page. The prose is powerfully descriptive of the horrible - This book drowns in blood and shit and darkness, so it won't appeal to everyone, and you'll have to be in the right frame of mind. Near the end I was worried if this was turning in "Misery Porn", but thankfully it ended on an up note.

The main plot is basically a twist on "the wrongly accused man", but the strength is in the style rather than the structure of the work. You could probably describe th
Madeleine McLaughlin
A great read, but with a warning, this book takes place mainly in the sewers under London, so the atmosphere makes you feel dirty. It's that well written. Good characters and subjects that could take place today.
Oscar E
May 02, 2015 Oscar E rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Definitely a 4.5 star book. I am marking it 5 stars to help increase the general grading showing her in goodreads. I certainly think it deserves more success and recgnition than what ist's gotten so far. Clare Clark writes calfully and slowly, building-up charachters an situations with a solid pace. If you are anything into victorian literature, you will find this text both familiar and new and will not be dissappointed.

Here is just a taste of it: As the months passed, Wiliam came increasingly

Nancy Rosenthal
Jul 15, 2010 Nancy Rosenthal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved it ! Suspenseful and was so descriptive of the British sewer system, I could smell it the whole time I was reading the book.
Sep 16, 2012 Alexander rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Viktoriansk thriller med djupa och trovärdiga karaktärer. Me like!
Adrienne Jones
Jun 06, 2010 Adrienne Jones rated it really liked it
The Devil in the White City meets London Under London.

Some of the best times I've had this month were prowling the rancid sewers Victorian London with a tosher (sewer scavenger) and a civil engineer.

For years, this unread novel has been mistakenly shelved with our non-fiction books. And while non-fiction on the development of modern sewers intrigues me (in theory) it doesn't leap off the bookshelf demanding attention.

This unusually olfactory novel, kept me spellbound.

The book will appeal to read
Jan 18, 2016 Booknblues rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For those not afraid to get a little grimy in the sewers of Victorian London Clare Clark’s The Great Stink is an intriguing read with a great atmospheric setting and well developed characters. Clark is painstaking in her detail and ever so slowly draws out the strands to develop her plot, which can take a patient reader.

We learn about the putrid smell and ever present diseases of London in the 1850’s and the desire to improve upon the sewer system without the expenditure. Clark is careful in set
Perry Whitford
London in the mid 19th century, the Thames is an open sewer, working in evil concert with the smoke-spewing proto-factories to imbue each street with their own unique, noxious stenches.

William May, engineer and surveyor, wounded, traumatised and recently returned from the Crimean War, is now working on the renovation of the sewers. He finds an unusual comfort alone in the dank, dirty tunnels under the city because there he can find release from his personal horrors through a compulsion to contin
Jul 12, 2011 Lucy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is Victorian not only in setting, but in writing style and pace; it seemed like everything before the halfway mark was setup, with little actual plot. As I'm out of practice with this kind of book, it was a little frustrating to get so far with so little apparent action.

The main story centers around William May, a man struggling with mental illness and self-harm due to his stint in the Crimean War. The secondary story involves Long Arm Tom, a tosher, and his dog Lady. The two are tied
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

CLARE CLARK is the author of The Great Stink, a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and The Nature of Monsters.
More about Clare Clark...

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