March 20th, 2014


Book #11: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Number of pages: 505

J.K. Rowling’s first novel since the end of the Harry Potter series opens with the death of Barry Fairbrother, a local councillor in the book’s fictional setting, Pagford.

This event sets of the subsequent events in the story, including principally the politics behind electing Fairbrother’s replacement, but throughout the book it is shown that many of Pagford’s residences have skeletons in their closets throughout the many intertwined plotlines, including defamatory messages about one of the candidates appearing on the Parish Council website posted by “The Ghost of Barry Fairbrother”.

When this book first came out, it was a well-known fact that this was going to be very different from Harry Potter, and it is. Aimed at an adult audience, the book introduces a lot of mature themes, from extra-marital affairs to domestic violence and rape; and there is also a lot of profanity.

The pace of the story is quite slow; the first part of the book introduces all of the characters, and deals with their reactions to Fairbrother’s death. I enjoyed this a lot, particularly the portrayal of middle-class England, and the way that just about every character was portrayed to show them as very ugly on the inside. It took a few chapters to get into, but I found myself hooked on the story, all the way to the harrowing conclusion.

Next book: Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Book 61: Elijah's Mermaid by Essie Fox

Book 61: Elijah's Mermaid.
Author: Essie Fox, 2012.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Victorian England. Gothic Novel.
Other Details: Hardback. 406 pages.

Saved from the Thames one foggy London night, Pearl grows up at the House of Mermaids - a brothel that becomes the closest thing to home. But despite being cosseted and spoiled by the Madame, come her 14th year, Pearl is to be sold to the highest bidder.

Orphaned twins Lily and Elijah are on a rare trip to London when they meet the ethereal Pearl. And the repercussions of this chance encounter will bind all their fates together, in a dark and dangerous way. Bewitching, gothic and sensual, this is a tale of love and betrayal in a world where nothing is quite as it seems.
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

From its opening pages I found myself completely caught up in the rich world depicted in Essie Fox's second novel. I found I enjoyed it more than I did her début novel, The Somnambulist. Again, Essie Fox has taken her inspiration from a famous work of art: John William Woodhouse's A Mermaid (1900), even though the novel is set some years earlier in the mid-1860s onward.

The novel is narrated by Pearl and Lily in varying sections with other documents, such as Elijah's papers, being introduced when appropriate. I felt Fox's elegant prose perfectly captured the Victorian era, yet remained accessible to the modern reader. The pacing was good and while some elements of the story were melodramatic, it was a very effective Gothic kind of melodrama. The villain of the novel, Tip Thomas, is a splendid creation as is the obsessive artist, Osborne Black. There were also plenty of Dickensian twists in the narrative.

Fox's end notes about locations and slang was highly appreciated as was her notes on the real life inspirations for some of her characters. The mermaid/aquatic theme that informed the narrative was very powerful as were the sections set in The House of Mermaids. There were also scenes that were reminiscent of opium-fuelled dreams and nightmares.

I adored this novel and Essie Fox has quickly become one of my favourite authors for this type of historical fiction. Orion Publishers also deserves special praise for the exquisite cover art.

Essie Fox's page for 'Elijah's Mermaid' - includes extract and some lovely art.