**spoiler alert** A curious story of a murderer in the rural Scottish Highlands in 1869. The narrative switches from witness statements to first perso**spoiler alert** A curious story of a murderer in the rural Scottish Highlands in 1869. The narrative switches from witness statements to first person narrative to post-mortem reports and trial coverage. I enjoyed the unreliability and incompleteness of all the accounts. The unreliability is in the central case matched by seeming earnestness and forthrightness making it the more shocking when things don't add up. I also enjoy that one of the least likeable characters is the one with the greatest insight into the case so you are torn between your two responses to him. You're lulled into a certain perspectives which are then challenged and it is done with subtlety. And I love a good historical novel....more
I don't know why but I wasn't expecting this to be so funny. Smith can really make you laugh with a brilliantly placed string of profanities or a charI don't know why but I wasn't expecting this to be so funny. Smith can really make you laugh with a brilliantly placed string of profanities or a character's pathetic moment of insight.
Set in a hyper real North West London (James Wood calls it hysterical realism) the words fire off the page and everyone in the bland grey suburb is big and bright and more often than not ridiculous. I think Smith gets away with her deep mockery of her characters because she clearly likes them enormously and counts herself somewhere among their crew. Even the odious Chalfens have their place and as a white middle class reader I enjoyed (through the cringing) the painfully accurate observations, albeit on steroids.
A suitable inheritor of Austen and Dickens for the modern fucking age.
Thought-provoking, iconoclastic and pithy. A little too neat in parts (where the narrative focuses on binaries rather than more complex ideas which hoThought-provoking, iconoclastic and pithy. A little too neat in parts (where the narrative focuses on binaries rather than more complex ideas which hold sway for the most part) but he is tying to cover all history in a single volume so I am being a bit churlish. In an age of deep specialisation I am sure many will find flaws or oversimplifications in the detail but I admire anyone who takes on such a sweeping topic rather than a treatise on toenail fungus in late 16th C Umbria and its impacts on the enlightenment understanding of the body. Or whatever.
A bit of trivia: can't believe it took me over 35 years and reading this book to learn that an ox is a castrated bull. I am unsure what I thought an ox was to be honest....more
Oh joy what a book this is! From the moment I began reading I had that feeling: I can just settle in, I am in accomplished hands.
The author conjuresOh joy what a book this is! From the moment I began reading I had that feeling: I can just settle in, I am in accomplished hands.
The author conjures an eerie mood, particularly in the book's Essex setting among the salt marshes which are described so fully you can smell the oysters on the air.
But the book turns on people and the complex, rhythms of human hearts change the with seasons as the book moves through a single year. The characters are so vivid. The central protagonist (there is a bit of an ensemble) is the wonderful Cora, who has so many facets and comes to life so brightly, flaws and all. Her relationships with the admiring and exasperated men and women around her are the core of the story through which is threaded mystery and the tensions of a late Victorian, post-Darwinian Britain that is embracing or doubting the arrival of the modern world, depending on the circumstance and personality involved. It's a brilliantly unstuffy portrait of an era often depicted at its straight-laced or debauched extremes.
Comparisons to Dickens are apt in its story-telling style and richness of description. Perry has her own inimitable breezy yet cuttingly clever voice though that almost made me laugh out loud in places with delight in her wit and skill and precision.