LOOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
The club scared everyone, even Mrs Price. A while back, Liza had overheard her talking with Agnes. It was noon and everyone else was asleep, and Mrs P and Agnes were chatting in front of the fire whilst Agnes mended one of Lil’s corsets (Gil being out of the house at the time).
“Burke says the club lot’re up to something” Mrs P had said. “But ‘e don’t know what.”
“Well, we’ll be careful,” Agnes said. But she was afraid, too, Liza thought..
It is impossible to talk much about this book without spoilers: if you plan on reading it soon and want it to be a complete surprise, then stop reading now. In this earlier entry I explain more of the plot, and give my view that the publishers shouldn't have kept this particular aspect of the plot secret. (Spoiler below consists only of the theme of the book, not plot points.)
observations: I couldn’t resist this extract because I do love a discussion of corsets and many a happy Dress Down Sunday has been spent in their company. But this is most definitely a first: In this particular case the difficulties for the corset-wearers result from their being vampires – ‘the Quick’ is their name for the non-vampire population. In the past, we have looked at the important properties of coutil – a specially strong fabric suitable for corsets – so I hope the vampires know about it. See particularly this previous entry, and also the comments below the entry from our cherished expert Ken Nye.
The book looks in part at the difference between the posh vampires – the gentlemen of the Aegolius club –and the rough ones living in obscure poor streets in London, and this is very well-imagined and well done. Mrs Price is the leader of the second group.
There are many felicities in the book – the strand following Adeline is very engrossing, and there are great lines like ‘he smiled briefly – quick as the flick of a rat’s tail’ and ‘that business with the sheep and the wax head’ – not further explained. And this: ‘To her disquiet, he had contrived to leave her feeling not unpleasantly weak: behind her knees. Higher.’ The poor children call themselves ‘the undid’ and Mrs Price says ‘Never say die…’
It is an extremely assured book for what is, I think, a first novel, and I am full of admiration for Ms Owen’s imagination and ability. There are some absolutely marvellous bits in the book, but she makes you work very hard for them, they are surrounded by long long pages which are routine. A shorter book could have been magnificent.
The picture of sewing a corset is by Constantinus Fidelio Coene and comes from Wikimedia Commons. The other picture, strangely satisfying shapes, is a paper pattern for a corset, also from Wikimedia.