[4.5] A rip-roaring yarn and awe-inspiring use of experimental form - it's not every day you see that in a book.
Like Catton's previous near-masterpie...more[4.5] A rip-roaring yarn and awe-inspiring use of experimental form - it's not every day you see that in a book.
Like Catton's previous near-masterpiece, The Rehearsal, this suffers from a rather misleading cover. The illustration, and the very title The Luminaries seem to allude to "a different world entirely... a world of drawing rooms, and calling cards, and gowns" (p.31) - not a mystery/ adventure involving gold prospectors, prostitutes, drug addiction and frontier-town bigwigs. One likely to appeal to quite a number of readers who may be put off by the first impression of yet another Austen/Dickens pastiche.
The Luminaries certainly is a pastiche of a kind, though it was never so overwhelmingly Victorian in its style as I expected after seeing a well-known book blogger mention how he abandoned it: "Jeanette Winterson said, "If you want to read 19th-century novels, you may as well read the real thing, and not go out and buy a reproduction." It strays further from faithful Victorian reproduction after the early chapters, still making wonderful use of the depth of characterisation that's too often missing from contemporary British novels. And it's certainly faster reading than most nineteenth-century originals. The narrative voice has hints of George Eliot (whom I was delighted to read Catton also prefers over the Brontes and Austen). But (perhaps because I've never read Wilkie Collins, with whom this book's most often been compared so far) the experience of reading The Luminaries made me think most of all of Arthur Conan Doyle, back before I'd read the Holmes stories so often they'd become a little boring. Tales of skullduggery and crime often recounted through the medium of conversations between men - sometimes in the telling itself, sometimes as a deep-sea dive into a framed narrative like Heart of Darkness.
Still, those were comparisons to the actual Victorian... Neo-Victorian isn't a trend in which I've had much interest other than the odd work by big names like A.S. Byatt, Sarah Waters and Alan Moore. The larger-than life characters and the sheer pointless fun of this story do, for me, recall comics put into prose. (Michael Chabon was perhaps the most unlikely comparison I kept making as I read.) Catton seems like an intellect every bit as formidable as Byers but she so far has applied it to structure rather than essentially highbrow story-topics. Unlike Waters (and many other historical novelists) her application of modern values is subtle; characters are people of their time, though perhaps a greater percentage of the well-off white men are, without fanfare, decent and civil to ethnic minorities and to women of questionable backgrounds than may have been the case in the real mid nineteenth century. Characters of all origins are treated with equal dignity by the narrative, again, without ever making a song and dance about it, which periodically gives a rather pleasant time-warp effect. The setting, at least for most non-ANZ readers, has much novelty and interest, when so much Victoriana focuses on London; plus it has similarities to the Wild West along with its own distinctive character.
It's often quite possible to imagine if only one could put the words together a bit more nicely, had greater stamina for writing at length &c, how it might have been possible to write various books. The Luminaries though, is from a writing perspective a fairly mind-boggling achievement that sounds almost as difficult,and almost as much a potential impediment to producing a good story, as do the letter-missing-out antics of Georges Perec.
1) It is a highly complex mystery which would in itself be a considerable invention. 2) Each of its 12 parts has a word count exactly half that of its predecessor. 3) Astrology, a pre-existing complex (fictional) system has been used as a starting point for the characters' interactions. (A three-stairs-in-one-stride step up in intricacy from the use of playing cards in The Rehearsal.) Not only that but Catton has partially refashioned astrology to her own purpose by making each of the main characters a sign or a planet, and various buildings the houses on the chart - such that, for example, Mercury in Aries means a meeting of those two characters. (I think it would also be perfectly possible to enjoy the book as a story whilst ignoring or knowing little of these aspects.)
Towards the end of the book, it's possible to see the decreasing word-count become slightly burdensome as the "in which" chapter descriptions start to near the length of the text they precede. These same length constraints mean that there are several short chapters going into detail about earlier events to a level that isn't always necessary, but which I nearly always found interesting. At least Catton doesn't use this tailing-off to tie the "present" fates of the characters up too neatly. I (and probably a lot of readers of a book like this) prefer some unknowns at the end - although it's not terribly Victorian. What is impressive, though, is that the content never seems forced or unnatural - only the layout and chapter divisions indicate something unusual is going on.
The astrological-themed characters are an object lesson in how a seriously good writer can make archetypes into interesting personalities, few of whom end up seeming like stock characters; there's something atypical or unexpected about nearly all of them which offsets their origins. (Sometimes it's easy to spot how it's done: e.g. a spendthrift dandy ... who's Scandinavian.) Most have a cartoonish yet complex quality which reminds me of good comics. I didn't find out that twelve of the characters were based on star-sign attributes (though the planetary ones were clearer, somehow from the oblique dramatis personae) until I'd read over 200 pages. Once I knew this it all fell into place – and I occasionally had to banish mental pictures of the early 90's Creme Egg ads when certain characters appeared – but given that a) I know far more than I'd like about astrology and b) I think I read quite closely I was all the more impressed with Catton's characterisation for not having been able to help making it ridiculously obvious as many authors would have.
A drawback of the astrological scheme is that the planet-in-sign chaptering led to rather a lot of one-on-one conversations. What they characters are saying is generally exciting, and sometimes the chats become a framing device, but the format led to a slight background monotony that was at odds with my otherwise great enjoyment of the book. (This is why it's a rounded-down, not rounded-up 4.5.) The quieter among these conversations, in which we witness characters' communication of information - some of which we may already know - and their reactions, and in which “telling not showing” is really part of the useful action, reminded me of 18th-19th century epistolary novels.
Whilst sceptics surely can't argue with the idea of using one made-up system to make up something else, I've noticed a few press reviews which are puzzled by the astrological basis of the novel when only one character, Lydia Wells, has any enthusiasm for star signs. To me it seemed another mental leap by the author; to use this scheme for a story with a cast of hippies, psychics etc would have been obvious. Instead the story in The Luminaries is seasoned with astrology but not, I would say, overwhelmed by it – similar to the way Celine & Julie Go Boating is seasoned with magic both stage and esoteric. Though perhaps it's only if one's had much familiarity with astrology that it doesn't seem off-key to see it applied to non-adherents, to things and people which seem unrelated to the subject. Everyone has a horoscope, whether they've ever taken any notice of it or not. Even Richard Dawkins. My own knowledge comes from OCD-like phases of struggle with superstitious systems plus a tendency to hoover up information. (I managed to break from astrology after discovering “fixed star” astrology which added a near-exponential number of extra possibilities so that, crucially, from within the system itself and not only from outside, it all started to seem nonsensical and as if it could be made to say anything.) I was a little disappointed that, according to this interview Eleanor Catton seems – for the moment - to embrace astrology unquestioningly although she must be enormously intelligent. But she has at least made a rather stupendous work of art out of it - one started when she would have been only 26.
This is, incidentally, the first novel of its size I've finished in exactly six years. The last one was Darkmans - pure coincidence that the names almost mirror. And like the Nicola Barker, it was so enjoyable that the book was rarely burdensome (even if I did take a day off in the middle for a sub-300 pager, which helped).
I would love to see The Luminaries win the Booker. (There are two or three contenders between which I can hardly choose.) Though its scale of ambition and experiment, and sheer bulk, lead inevitably to a few imperfections that wouldn't be found in a more conventionally-structured, polished novel of a quarter of its length. Regardless, it was enormous fun, very readable and ever so clever. (less)
Most of the writing is very beautiful. It had a deep emotional intensity, without ever being flowery or obscure, and I wished I could write that way....moreMost of the writing is very beautiful. It had a deep emotional intensity, without ever being flowery or obscure, and I wished I could write that way. This was the first Colm Tóibín I've read and I would happily read more.
It isn't really a novel about debunking Christianity and providing new explanations, like The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ or The Liars' Gospel. Some scenes, such as the wedding at Cana, are left ambiguous, and others have no apparent rational basis. The Testament of Mary is closer to the contemporary take on mythological women found in the poems of Carol Ann Duffy or U.A. Fanthorpe. This avoided more tub-thumping, which was welcome, and also more gentle, if one can use that word of a story with graphic scenes of slow horrible death. And like poetry, it doesn't seek to explain and describe everything, only what at that moment feels most vital.
Yes, there were a few anachronistic attitudes in Mary's thinking but not so bad as I'd expected from some reviews. I didn't mind them. The quality of the writing washed them away, and perhaps also because I was feeling dizzy, I wasn't as bothered by them as I had been by similar things in other books lately.
The crucifixion scene could have done with some reworking. Not that it lacked power - it made me feel physically sick even though when I was younger I spent thousands of hours staring towards walls with crucifixes on. Mary describes her son's execution as if she were any other bystander. Then later she tells us that Jesus' disciples are not happy with her account and would prefer it shorter and less confused. Her description of disorientation feels right but her telling of the events themselves is much too coherent and measured to convey the reeling and the frozen trauma she says she feels.
Generally, though, I liked the way The Testament of Mary avoided the obvious, which is easier said than done in a reworking of a story almost everyone knows. (less)
[4.5] Full of gorgeous writing about the landscape and a semi-mythical past. The entire book takes place in one week at harvest-time, so this and the...more[4.5] Full of gorgeous writing about the landscape and a semi-mythical past. The entire book takes place in one week at harvest-time, so this and the next month or so is the perfect season to read it. (Rather a lot of Booker books, from this and earlier years, are set in the summer, I've noticed.)
What sky is blue is more thinly so this afternoon. The woodland canopies, viewed from this sloping field, are sere or just a little pinched with rust, the first signs of the approaching slumber of the trees. Come maids and sons of summer, get ready for the winter ice. The air is nipping at your cheek, the cold is tugging at your wrist. The glinting spider's thread will turn in a little while to glinting frost. It's time for you to fill your pies with fruit, because quite soon the winds will strip the livings from the trees... and you will have to wait indoors through the season of suspense while weather roars and bends outside.
Harvest is set in a remote village, leniently ruled and where the spiritual attachment to the land is far greater than that to an imported monotheistic god. The costumes, the technology and political preoccupations are those of early-modern England, but this is also an allegorical land outside time. The country is never named and details appear from other ages such as a chariot as a likely mode of transport, the apparent absence of printing, and later-dated details as mentioned here by Philip Hensher (who seems to misunderstand the timelessness but does at least appreciate the book). Fantastical ones too: alongside wolves and bears, another local predator not seen just lately is a 'dragoncat'. Harvest's original world bears much resemblance to my daydreams of retreat into the past, many technologies de-invented, working on the land and eating what is grown. (In practice, this is indulged mostly by watching Tales from the Green Valley, going barefoot on lawns, doing a lot of cooking and perhaps listening to the Levellers).
Harvest, though, is not so much about an idyll as its ruin. The dread which permeates the book, along with its almost-abstract setting, are very much like Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians (whose forces are also too strong to fight). The wonderful description and scattering of archaic and rural words are always present but it is not a happy book. Authoritarianism arrives in the form of a gentleman who has inherited lordship of the village, bringing enclosures for sheep farming and the attendant deracinating of humanity, and other brutal characteristics of the Tudor era.
Like another 2013 Booker-longlister, Unexploded, more so, in fact, this is a historical novel which comments on the present as well as the past. Both Crace and MacLeod highlight increasingly authoritarian and intrusive aspects of society: the latter the acceptance of giving up liberty for a little temporary safety; the former, here, its foundation in economic gain and the wish to have power over aspects of life that were previously, at least for a while, benignly neglected by government or not considered its business.
This is such wonderful writing. At least as far as I'm concerned, Crace has always been under the radar - for as long as I can remember I'd struggled not to conflate him with Jim Dodge, and he was a name only seen on the shelves of libraries and bookshops, not in recommendations or lists of best contemporary novels. His words are much lovelier and preoccupations, at least here, more understandable to me than more ostentatiously lauded authors like Ian McEwan and it's a shame nothing had spurred me to read him before. (I also like that, having been to a technical college and living in Birmingham, he is not quite typical of the British literary set.) Before I read this book, I'd thought Crace was a fuddy-duddy choice to back as Booker winner, but Harvest itself is fully deserving (not just an excuse for a "lifetime achievement" win) ... though books I like this much rarely win. (less)
[3.5] Don't be surprised if I change that rating back and forth between 4 and 3 a few times. During the last couple of days I've felt warm-and-fuzzy t...more[3.5] Don't be surprised if I change that rating back and forth between 4 and 3 a few times. During the last couple of days I've felt warm-and-fuzzy towards this book despite its flaws, but for the first 150 pages I was often intensely irritated.
First off though, this really isn't sci-fi or fantasy. It's magic realism plus a few pages of alternate history. Ursula is simply reincarnated many times into the same life - always born on the same day in 1910, but living anything from a few minutes to retirement age. She experiences a lot of deja-vu and other echoes which prompt her actions, and they become stronger the more times she experiences things, as if they are held in implicit memory. The other people around her don't seem to be experiencing the same and there aren't all that many differences in the world on each trip (though there are some). It's much like a video game: Game Over, start again; the 1918 flu and the Blitz are two of the trickiest bosses to beat. Most readers are probably glad that only short instalments from each life are in the book, whereas a more avant-garde use of the idea might have produced something like a spot-the-difference game in words.
I only picked this up because this year I wanted to read a good few new novels in advance of the Booker longlist announcement so for once I could have the informed opinion about it I'd often wanted to have when I was younger. Kate Atkinson has many great book titles but I've never read any of her novels because the actual stories are a huge let down compared with what I imagine and want. (Behind the Scenes at the Museum: if only that were a good old fashioned British comic novel about the staff of a museum, Douglas Adams-esque with some Tom Sharpe style farce. Emotionally Weird: a goth / emo teenager who's taken seriously by no-one but the narrative. Human Croquet: vicious observations about the upper classes, like Edward St. Aubyn's world without quite so much abuse and addiction. Case Histories: an austere and sensible female doctor, rather like Samantha whatsername in Silent Witness but not so sensationalist and rarely if ever about murders. Started Early, Took My Dog: a tweedy old man who does a lot of walking.)
The things that annoyed me in Life After Life are mostly things I might expect to be annoyed by in any market-positioned middlebrow historical novel. I can be pretty merciless about historical fiction and wouldn't be reading much of it if it hadn't been for this pre-Booker exercise, but I kept being attracted to the synopses when deciding which new novels to read.
There were occasional clumsy comments about the future or the nature of life that sounded like klaxons in incidental conversations: e.g. "one day there'll be a woman prime minister, maybe even in our lifetime"; "you only live once". (Conversely I liked the knowingness of things like 'Admiral' Crighton and "don't go to sleep Susie".) In the earlier part of the book the narrative focuses on Ursula's mother, Sylvie, and her musings seem designed to strike a chord with some average Mumsnet woman of now - not to produce any sense of how people in the past thought. Later on Sylvie seemed appropriately stuffier, and I liked the book more when the focus was handed over to Ursula's own thoughts when she succeeded in living to be older. She was born in the same year as one of my grandmothers but seems more sociable and less stuffy, like other people's grandparents or someone I could see being interviewed in a documentary; in plenty of her later grown-up iterations she was very likeable and reminded me a little of Bel from The Hour.
A lot of people have called this book bleak, so it possibly says more about me than about it when I say that - aside from a few scenes - it was very cosy. I've been known to say the same about black & white French films with sad endings... But this really does seem like a cosy English novel, just with a few more difficult events. A minute ago I was decrying historical fiction, now I feel like it's taught me something - but then I'm quite amenable to the stuff when it's about the Second World War onwards. Possibly because when you've heard living people talk about their experience of something, it's not "the past" in quite the same way as things you can only know from books & artefacts. Life After Life made me really understand that English nostalgia for the war. Ursula usually works in Civil Defence and that sense of working together to get important things done amid tides of drama, the way it makes you meet people, and so bloody much to do that there's hardly time to think about anything difficult reminded me of all the good bits of work before each time I burnt out. And she has so many more friendships and is surrounded much more warmth than my grandmothers were in their accounts of the time (both were foreign so were fairly isolated but were just not especially sociable anyway). Films or talking head accounts usually only have space to include a few friends, but here there are so many friends and colleagues it does feel like an account of a full life. Not that it wasn't horrific as well. As an adult I've heard surprisingly few accounts of the Blitz and always just imagined people crushed by buildings. Not random lumps of flesh found in the street, or drowning in a cellar because of burst pipes. I finally experienced a vivid sense of that happened here? about the whole wartime era which you're probably supposed to get when you're about eight.
One thing I was braced to dislike was the "let's go back in time and kill Hitler" storyline which has already been covered countless times in fiction. I've found Stephen Fry's later novels, and general present ubquity, embarrassing but in Making History I think he gave the definitive take on this trope: that the War had led to such liberalisation and rejection of prejudice (to which I'd add the golden age of the post-war Butskellite consensus) that it's best to leave things as they were. Fry also had relatives who were victims of the Nazis, so it's hard to dismiss this as mere cold, callous theory. The "let's kill Hitler" stuff, whilst still a cliché, actually takes up very few pages in Life After Life.(not that much of a (view spoiler)[ And because each narrative ends when Ursula dies, we never hear what the effect was (or even if the plot was successful). (hide spoiler)] And Atkinson had pretty much pre-empted my criticism. (view spoiler)[ Ursula doesn't see the same effects because she considers Hitler's legacy from at least 30 years earlier than Making History - and as she's older, she's more detached from the social changes of the 60's when she witnesses them and instead sees the Arab-Israeli wars as significant. (hide spoiler)])
Whilst I was glad to finish a long book, I wasn't tired of the new incarnations as some readers have been. But then I've always been fascinated by ideas like time travel, the minute chances and events that make people who they are and aren't, and parallel universes. (Can I have the one where I've always been in good health and wrote the Guardian review of this book 3 months ago next please?) Still, I very much liked the existential sense of not knowing why Ursula kept coming back, the absence of any delineated higher power indicating what it is to "get it right" - and that the book started and ended in the middle of incarnations as if we were only seeing a slice of a far longer story. Perhaps the story is [part of] an ouroboros, as drawn by one of the child Ursulas.
This isn't the first 2013 novel I've read which looks at choices and chances that make a life what it is. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is better in that respect because it considers the circumstances around a person. In Ursula's lives everyone stays the same and does almost the same things, and international events happen at the exact same times. Her family are never desperately poor or aristocrats, she's never born with a genetic disease or orphaned at an early age or sent to boarding school or... It's all and only about what she chooses. (Just like a video game.) Which is in itself a philosophy, but an erroneous one with a limited scope. And which doesn't even resemble the theory of parallel universes.
But the story could also be a look at the possibilities that exist for choice within the same circumstances, showing that the biggest differences to life are made through choices whose effects can't be predicted. People still can't really help it: they're often stumbling about in the dark. Is there a satire here of people who feel the world revolves around them? Or of New Agers who think we chose what happened to us even though we couldn't possibly know the long-term consequences of some things? I can't tell whether I'm reading too much into the story or if it was meant to be considered this way.
"Boring" is something I've also seen the contents of many of the incarnations called in some reviews. But before I was enveloped by the cosiness, as by a nice big squashy sofa, I wished the book was more "boring". In an arty way: more Jeanne Dielmann than Mumsnet. Atkinson has quite rightly shown that most of life is mundane interspersed with flurries of eventfulness but in a way that is more accessible and easier reading than what I'm getting at. It's the sort of work she produces, and it's the sort of work that sells tons. I'm sort of frustrated with it for not pushing the conceptual angles further and not being a bit more "highbrow" but I also sort of love it and can see myself reading bits of it again just to relax, as I do with favourite books. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I started this biased towards Rob Newman (yes, that Rob Newman, the sexy one from The Mary Whitehouse Experience, as probably only British comedy fans...moreI started this biased towards Rob Newman (yes, that Rob Newman, the sexy one from The Mary Whitehouse Experience, as probably only British comedy fans in their 30's & 40's will remember)... but whilst the book's not bad when it's being a ripping historical adventure yarn - and it has the best of intentions politically - I wasn't half so impressed as I wanted to be.
Unlike most fiction I read, The Trade Secret has an almost didactic aim: to show the beginnings of global capitalism and oil dependence, from an anti-capitalist perspective. (Newman's previous book The Fountain at the Centre of the World - which I haven't read - was about "late capitalism".) You might, then, expect sledgehammer politics ... They weren't exactly obscure (pondering on the discovery that the Mayflower was once a slave ship; well-meaning people finding they've bought into the wrong side; or a collective of small traders banding together) but a lot of this is simply an adventure story about two lads trying to make their way in the early modern world, and getting into lots of coincidence-fuelled scrapes along the way.
The Trade Secret might perhaps work best read on public transport or when a bit tired; there are lots of nice short chapters, it's not hard work and there's probably more fun to be had here without close concentration. There are some very nice paragraphs but for the most part I was often reminded of the title of a blog post I read a while ago, "Reliable sorts who get the story told" (actually about the Granta Best Young British Novelists).
If you're pedantic about history, it's a frustrating book. A lot of research has evidently gone into this in the detail about early modern Persia, Venice & London. But there are some errors: e.g. a seventeenth century opium addict couldn't have had trackmarks as hypodermics weren't invented yet (also would anyone really mistake healed burn scars for trackmarks?); a conversational reference to "the laws of physics"; and one that Newman's Soho Jarvis character probably wouldn't have got wrong, bastinado would involve an assault on the feet and not about the head.
More than that sort of point of fact, sometimes the book just doesn't feel historical in ways such as "would people have actually thought that then?", or characters' unlikely lifestyles. One of the heroes has a love interest, Gol, who seems to have been transposed from a twentieth-century set story about a fickle, feisty, hard-to-get girl who's in a band. She seemed so unlikely that I did a bit of reading about women in the Safavid empire; there were bands of female musicians but they were courtesans, not virginal lower-middle-class girls living with their parents whilst slowly deciding who to marry. I'm sure the inclusion of this character has the best of intentions- after all this is a left-wing political novel - she's a woman with a strong sense of agency and high standards, but historical inaccuracy is a very blunt way of trying to show that. The scenes in Persia were often easier to read as a fantasy novel than a historical one, and a scene at a dance felt more like a rave or modern house party. Yet there are other scenes, especially those in London, which use more archaic language and have more of a sense of history.
I've been thinking it might be satisfying if historical fiction had demarcations like hard sci-fi and soft sci-fi - with the former supposed to be so theoretically accurate that geeks would struggle to pick holes in it. But if there were, The Trade Secret would be neither one nor t'other.
This very pickiness (not big, not clever, not even enjoyable to do) is why I don't read much historical fiction now. I used to devour the stuff when I was a kid though - and this book, with its two young heroes, does have a similar feel, and a similar sense of fun punctuated by episodes of relative boredom, to a lot of those old children's books.
I haven't actually read one of Newman's books since I was a fangirl who bought Dependence Day as soon as it was released in 1994 so haven't really got anything to compare this one with. It does make me think that writing a really good novel must be even harder than it looks: he's a clever, funny guy but this book, whilst not bad lacks the spark of brilliance his comedy sometimes had. You couldn't accuse it of being overly serious, for thankfully it isn't yet more lyrical realism, but equally it's not an outright comic novel. Someone like me would probably be happier reading factual history to find out about the subjects here, but for those who aren't incredibly picky about historical accuracy or writing style, this will be a pretty decent book.(less)
I'm not entirely sure what the point of this is. (Well, I'm sure Stevenson enjoyed writing it, and it was part of the nineteenth centur...moreRead on Questia
I'm not entirely sure what the point of this is. (Well, I'm sure Stevenson enjoyed writing it, and it was part of the nineteenth century revival of late medieval Parisian poet Francois Villon...) The story gives an account of what happened when Villon was implicated in the murder of a priest in Paris in 1456. Yet Stevenson doesn't even use the few available facts, which could easily form the skeleton of a story more interesting than this stabbing at a card game - a scene that now seems like something from a mediocre gangster movie.
Villon's character is quite odd. At first he is a familiar figure, the highly intelligent trickster archetype among his band of mates. Then in response to his friend spontaneously stabbing a man, he laughs almost psychopathically, handing out the spoils after this unanticipated crime, and a few minutes later is hunched up in despair. He continues to have further pendulum-like mood swings every few minutes and seems like some woefully damaged creature who was born and brought up in Fagin's house, not a man of 25 who had a kind and influential guardian and a good education, even if he did go off the rails. It would be forgivable if the writing was great, but it's not and there's simply something incoherent and poorly researched about the factual aspects of the story. (Villon was later pardoned as someone who was previously of good character. This does not fit with the hardened criminal actions here, and there is no reason to suppose the historical figure actually lived by thieving at least until he was exiled, even if he did already hang out with various vagabonds sometimes.)
The descriptions of street scenes and the weather are great, just as atmospheric as I would expect from late-Victorian historical fiction. But much of the rest was contrived, clumsy, full of exposition and infodumps and well-below par for a classic author. I will say, though, that I quite liked the conclusion, which was pleasingly un-Victorian.(less)
[3.5] A simple bittersweet romantic story, which I liked all the better for its historical setting, although it's so obviously transposed from some mo...more[3.5] A simple bittersweet romantic story, which I liked all the better for its historical setting, although it's so obviously transposed from some more modern time. But that setting also gives it a problem: first-person historical narration is harder to pull off the further back in time you go. There are reasonable hints at a seventeenth-century voice but the need to make something readable for a modern audience (I remember this balance being mentioned on creative writing courses) means there are phrases which, if you know works of the time, jar: "you preferr'd to deal with it alone, I think."
And I learnt something: Birdcage Walk, so often mentioned on commentaries of the London Marathon, royal events &c, was so named because during the Restoration it was in summer lined with birdcages, containing exotic fowl belonging to the king - and in winter they would be taken indoors.(less)