Wow. What a first 150 pages! This post is spoiler free (we’re only at the beginning, after all) so if you’re not taking part but are curious about the first section, you can read on without worrying about stumbling on something that might ruin the book for you.
1) We’ll start simple. How are you finding the book so far?
I’m really, really enjoying it. I expected to like it but I’m surprised by just how easily the pages fly by. The way the narrator is talking directly to readers and the acknowledgement that we’re from another time doesn’t feel at all gimmicky or awkward; it works perfectly. I can feel the characters starting to get under my skin but it’s the writing that’s really been making it for me so far. The dry, almost snarky commentary keeps on making me smile and I’ve been noting down quotes all over the place. Take this one:
“The ladies swanning through St James’s Park this sunny November midday will not be required to change much between now and the end of their century. They are suitable for immediate use in the paintaings of Tissot, the sensation of the Seventies, but they could still pass muster for Munch twenty years later (though he might wish to make a few adjustments). Only a world war will finally destroy them” [Page 65]
If the whole book is as good as this first section, I can see it being one of my top books of the year.
2) The language and tone of the writing is pretty brutal and unflinching. Does that bother you? Does it change how you feel about doling out recommendations?
It was a bit of a shock at first. The graphic description of some more…rustic methods of preventing pregnancy, for example, and the liberal use of some pretty heavy-duty bad language did surprise me but didn’t offend me. I’m not easily offended when it comes to language and it doesn’t seem gratuitous, more just in keeping with the slightly sordid side of London in the 1870s.
3) We’ve met both Sugar and William Rackham now. First impressions?
I really like Sugar so far and I pretty much despise William.
Sugar makes me sad. She’s smart and well read but unable to aspire to much more than prostitution.
“A pity really, that Sugar’s brain was not born into a man’s head, and instead squirms, constricted and crammed, in the dainty skull of a girl. What a contribution she might have made to the British Empire“
I feel as though there’s a lot more to learn about her and I’m really curious to read more from her perspective. I could live with fewer descriptions of how dry her lips and skin are, though, I have to say.
William is selfish, lazy and a shameless misogynist. Truly awful. The chapters from his perspective are amusing in a vaguely terrible way. His views on socialism (“Socialism is not the same thing as letting one’s servants muddle towards anarchy“), on women and on the great injustice of being required to work for a living are entertaining, even while I desperately want to punch him in the face. I’m curious to see whether he’ll change for the better or if he’s just a walking tragedy waiting to happen.
4) Agnes Rackham has been a bit of a fringe character in this first section but her treatment by her husband and doctor makes her quite the tragic figure. What do you think about her mysterious ‘illness’?
I want to like Agnes. Being married to William would be trying for any woman but I’m not sure what to make of her illness. I’m not sure if she’s depressed or if she’s got some as yet undiagnosed physical illness but I’m intrigued by her. Mostly because I’ll get to read about the mistreatment of women with mental illness, which I really find fascinating.
5) Much though I’m really enjoying the book, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of a plot. Any predictions about what’s coming up?
I don’t want to be the voice of impending doom but I sense something terrible in our characters’ futures. At least one death and at least one birth. I don’t see this book ever becoming plot driven but I don’t think I mind that. I love the writing and I’ll happily read about whatever these characters get up to. So I’m guessing (and I really am guessing – I actually haven’t a clue what’s going to happen so these aren’t spoilers!) a child between William and Sugar, an incarceration in an asylum for Agnes aaaand William both gaining and losing his father’s fortune.
See you next week!