Dress Down Sunday: The Quick by Lauren Owen

published 2014


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).

Corsets had to be made special for Mrs P and Agnes and Lil, because otherwise they’d split and snap them in a second. It ws on account of all the moving and fighting, Mrs P said, and then we’re tougher than the Quick, and our outsides don’t give as much.

“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.


  1. Moira - I admit that to me, corsets are fascinating sociologically, but I could never imagine wearing them *shudders.* Still, the bit you've shared has some interesting insights about them, and beyond that, I see a discussion of social class differences, and I find that interesting too. Perhaps the narrative is a bit long, but the core of this one does sound intriguing.

    1. Yes, the question of corsets and the modern women is an interesting one. And I do think Lauren Owen is a writer to watch.

  2. Deja-vous time - not for me thanks.

    1. I'm trying to think - do you ever go for fantasy/supernatural/scifi? I don't often myself, but maybe more than you do.

    2. Not anymore Moira. I used to love Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker etc - so more horror than fantasy, all with supernatural elements, but all with everyday characters and decent stories. I still have King and Koontz books on the unread mountain.

      I had a bit of a Ray Bradbury binge when I was younger, but apart from the odd book over the years, sci-fiction never really appealed. I didn't enjoy the sciences at school - so the tag was off-putting maybe!

    3. Well if your tastes change over time, there's still the chance that you will get a longing for delicate nuanced novels about feelings and spirituality....

  3. When I was a teenager, girdles were still in fashion (or at least in use) and I was thin at the time. What image were we trying to project?

    I know corsets were much worse, but still they fascinate me. The whole idea.

    1. I know exactly what you mean, Tracy. And for many of us, when we look at our young selves, we're thinking 'what were you on about? Why did you not realize that you were a perfectly attractive young person, why did you worry about it so much?'


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