Friday, March 24, 2017
Photo: from the book's Goodreads page.
I really liked this book despite its inconsistency. Some parts are very well-written, and some...well, aren't. Very odd. You can get a paragraph or two, or a few pages, with exceptional prose, or description; but then suddenly you get a dead-weight clunker of a paragraph, or sometimes just a line or two. There are shifts in tone, too. Suddenly--and I mean you can hear the screeches--a character becomes shady. Suddenly a scene changes, or you can't see it clearly. Towards the end there's a well-drawn action scene--and then suddenly you're at a trial, and it's very drawn-out. And the main character, Harry Lytle, does this and does that, and seemingly never stops, to do anything, and you realize that can't be, and it all doesn't come together, but it's okay because you're reading about yourself going through the motions as Lytle, and that's enough. In fact, that's the point, and undoubtedly the author's intent.
Very tough to explain.
But despite it all, you have a main character who is likable in his opaqueness. Who is he? What does he do? Not really ever explained, but he's a common enough bloke, and he's supposed to be you, the reader. He's just accessible enough to be us. We're the ones doing what he's doing, seeing what he's seeing. That transition is so seamless, you don't even realize it happened.
1664 London is really the main character, and it is supported well. The mystery isn't really mysterious. (The plot is more of a mystery, if you know what I mean.) It's all explained at the end, not very well, as the bow falls off and isn't neatly tied. But you won't care, because you're there for the sights and sounds of 1664 London, and you will get a lot of that, and you'll like it. The logistics of the ending is a head-scratcher, as are all of the characters when they take off their wigs to check for lice. Everyone's bald, and everything's filthy and gross, and 1664 London is just a disgusting place, where people get hanged but don't die, and their intestines are ripped out and burned and they don't die, and they're then tied hand and foot to horses and ripped apart, and if they still don't die, they're carted in a wheelbarrow to the nearest river and dumped in. And then their heads are stuck on a pike on a bridge or tower. And a prisoner about to die this way soils his pants, and that's described, and you realize that's what you're reading this for--the details, like you're there in 1664 London, and you're happy to be there by reading about it, because you sure as hell wouldn't really want to be there.
That's why this book works. If you like the history of historical fiction more than you like the fiction of historical fiction, you'll like this one. I'm on to the next, A Plague of Sinners.