Length: 544 pages
Publisher: Random House
Source: TLC Book Tours / NetGalley
From the publisher:
London, 1892: James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford, finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat. Through this new friendship, he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society, and finds love in an unexpected quarter. Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace. Unnerved, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him. In the sinister, labyrinthine city that greets her, she uncovers a secret world at the margins populated by unforgettable characters: a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret, and the chilling “Doctor Knife.” But the answer to her brother’s disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of one of the country’s preeminent and mysterious institutions: The Aegolius Club, whose members include the most ambitious, and most dangerous, men in England.
Here’s what I thought:
I was really glad to get the chance to read and review this book as there is nothing I love better than a chunkster of a novel set in Victorian England. In particular, I love neo-Victorian fiction, and thus The Quick seemed to be right up my alley. The writing is immediately engaging and I quickly become involved with the main character of James Norbury.
The story opens when James is a child growing up in the countryside with his sister Charlotte, then transitions into his life as a young man in London. He has gone to the city to try and make his way as a writer of poetry and plays. There is a bit of a twist to the story that involves James’ love life, and I was very hopeful for how this angle of the story was going to be explored in the context of Victorian social mores.
Then an even bigger twist happened, something that I was not expecting AT ALL, and it completely threw me off my reading game. The novel become something that I was not sure I actually wanted to read and I spent some time regretting that fact before I could push on with the story. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll just use a code word for what this book is about. Let’s call it ‘pickles’. (All you Gilmore Girls fans may get the subtle reference here).
You see, there have been lots of books written about ‘pickles’ in recent years. And while many people are into the idea of pickles, I’m not one of them. While I appreciate the somewhat unique situation in which the pickles are placed here, it wasn’t enough to bring me around to reading about them. I also got the feeling that Owen was not 100% certain of her choice to write a book about pickles, either, as she seemed very concerned about not using the actual word ‘pickle’ to describe what were, obviously, pickles.
Enough with the pickle analogy–I think you get the point. There is a lot of good stuff going on in this book, including historical detail and world building that it seems a shame to waste on the chosen subject matter. I would have much preferred a more straightforward neo-Victorian novel that delved into the characters and their circumstances rather than all this silliness with the pickles.
I think Owen has a lot of talent and potential as a writer, but I would have liked to see it used to greater effect on a different subject. However, this may just be a personal preference thing–I’ll let you judge for yourself. I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of the novel and thought it had a very strong ending, and I look forward to reading more by Owen in the future.
LAUREN OWEN studied English Literature at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, before completing an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where she received the 2009 Curtis Brown prize for the best fiction dissertation. The Quick is her first novel. She lives in Durham, England.
Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book and giving me a chance to share my review.