Friday, 20 June 2014

The Quick by Lauren Owen

published 2014

set in the 1890s







She found herself engulfed by a crowd of fellow passengers, hemmed in on all sides and borne helplessly forwards. She could smell dirt, sweating human bodies and damp wool and wet dog fur, a thousand other ripe and rotting things all blended together. The station was cold, and she felt insignificant beneath the ceiling, as if she had dissolved entirely into the crowd. The taste of smoke lingered at the back of her throat.

She had never seen so many people gathered in one place. The women were almost as soberly dressed as the men, in dim tasteful colours from which the odd touch of brightness stood out sharply: an Indian shawl, a blue woollen scarf, a red travelling cloak. She passed servants carrying travelling furs, an elderly couple struggling with a large picnic basket, a Scotch family with a pack of lively dogs, a little girl and her nursemaid – the woman reaching a swift hand, pulling the child back from the platform edge as a train began to move with a wrench of metal and a billow of smoke.


observations: 



****CONTAINS A SPOILER, which I consider unimportant but YMMV**** 



This new book is tipped to be a big best-seller this summer, and indeed has a lot to recommend it. But the question of the spoiler is a difficult one. About one-fifth of the way through (thank you Kindle) you find out what the key driving force of the plot is. The whole of the rest of the book is entirely predicated on this, it is basically the subject of the book. It would be a recommendation to most of the people who want to read it – so why is it not straightforwardly being pushed as what it is? -  which is: 


SPOILER 


… a book about vampires.

I would imagine most people will know before they read it. The opening chapters suggest dark Victorian Gothicism with some supernatural element just out of reach, and there is also another plot element, another feature of Victorian and modern life (which is then almost completely ditched in the rest of the book). I can’t understand why it is not being marketed as a vampire book.

Anyway. It is long and quite slow, you have to have some faith and confidence that Ms Owen is going to get you there – the book starts with a long description of a miserable childhood, a brother and sister pair. The boy grows up and goes to university and then London, where the plot really gets going, in what would seem to be the 1890s. He shares lodgings with another young man, tries to write, goes to see an Oscar Wilde play, makes small forays into society. He’s not a particularly appealing young man, and very socially insecure. The readers get hints of a secret and sinister gentlemen’s club called the Aegolius – what can they be getting up to there?

Once we know, the book packs in fake scientific research, diaries, new characters, a whole world in a different part of London. It is in turn infuriating and entrancing – it is difficult to keep track of the various threads, especially as at the end of a scene the author might or might not go back to tell you what led another character to the same place – and it’s by no mean always obvious whether it is old or new activity. I wish someone had edited the book severely. But it is very well-written, with some great descriptions and atmospheric scenes. I would not normally be that interested in a vampire book, but this one was overall an enjoyable read – an excellent choice for a long journey or a beach read. Ms Owen has plainly left the way open for a sequel.

Charlotte above – an excellent heroine – is travelling to London in search of her lost brother: the description is of Kings Cross, where she arrives in London, while the picture above (from the Library of Congress) is of York station in the 1890s, where she begins her journey.

12 comments:

  1. Vampires........one to avoid thanks for the heads-up!

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    1. If you don't like vampire stories, you won't like this book, that's for sure. I'm not a huge fan, but I can invite one in from time to time...

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  2. Good question indeed! I really dislike vampire stories, so was annoyed when this turned out to be that. I enjoyed the start, the build-up, thought it would be a ghost story or something about forbidden love in Victorian times... and then... Not badly written, but just not my cup of tea.

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    1. I enjoyed it more than you - but now I'm thinking I'd have enjoyed the book(s) you've just summoned up from your imagination even more!

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  3. Moira, while I've seen vampire movies, I haven't read any vampire books. However, the setting of the story, in the Victorian Gothic era of the late 19th century, sounds interesting. I prefer "atmospheric scenes" over mindless action, as it were, and a slow-paced book often has its own charm.

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    1. That's a very good description of why some books work Prashant, I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes I am in the mood for that kind of experience - I read this one on a train journey and it was good for that. I think you might enjoy it.

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  4. Moira - You raise such a good question! Still, I do like the sense of atmosphere in the snippet you shared. Sometimes that's enough to really build suspense. I'll have to decide whether to actually read - the topic isn't one I consider very much for me. But the atmosphere and historical setting are... Honestly I'm on the fence about this one.

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    1. As I say above, I think it would work if you were in the mood for a leisurely but gripping book, full of atmosphere - even if vampires aren't your thing.... and they're not mine, usually.

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  5. Subject matter doesn't seem like my kind of thing. I have tried and liked all manner of fantasy characters but not vampires yet. There is a different series that has some vampires that I plan to try but don't know when.

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    1. I wondered if you would, knowing that fantasy was one of your areas, but everyone has their own strands. Which series are you going to try? - I have no expertise in this area...

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    2. I plan to try the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. (Also called the Southern Vampire series... Sookie is not a vampire but her boyfriend is. In the first book anyway.) The True Blood series is based on this, but I really know very little about either. Someone recommended who I share other mystery tastes with, so I thought... why not?

      I read most of Charlaine Harris's Lily Bard series (set in Shakespeare, Arkansas) and liked it.

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    3. I'll be interested to hear how you like them Tracy - just like you, I read her earlier, straight murder books and liked them.

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