What’s it all about?:
Since she was found as a baby, floating in the Thames one foggy night, the web-toed Pearl has been brought up in a brothel known as the House of Mermaids. Cosseted and pampered there, it is only when her fourteenth birthday approaches that Pearl realises she is to be sold to the highest bidder.
Meanwhile, the orphaned twins, Lily and Elijah, have shared an idyllic childhood, raised in a secluded country house with their grandfather, Augustus Lamb. But when Lily and Elijah go on a visit London, a chance meeting with the ethereal Pearl will have repercussions for all of them, binding their fates together in a dark and dangerous way…
In this bewitching, sensual novel, Essie Fox has written another tale of obsessive love and betrayal, moving from the respectable worlds of Victorian art and literature, and into the shadowy demi-monde of brothels, asylums and freak show tents – a world in which nothing and no-one is quite what they seem to be.
What did I think?:
I have read and enjoyed the previous debut novel by Essie Fox – The Somnambulist so I was intrigued to read the second offering by this author. Set in the dirty and occasionally sordid London of the Victorian era, this novel tells the story from two points of view. The first is Pearl, rescued from the Thames as a baby in an apparent suicide attempt by her mother and raised in a brothel amid some very questionable characters. The second is Lily whom with her twin Elijah were also “rescued” from the Foundling Hospital and brought up by their grandfather who writes fairy tales for a living.
The descriptive prose in this novel is beautiful and bewitching. You can almost smell the stench of London’s fetid streets as Pearl’s life unfolds and the tension builds up. Fox has a great eye for detail and her characters were drawn perfectly, especially the foul Tip Thomas, the mysterious veiled Mrs Hibbert and the troubled Osborne Black whom I could all visualize immediately. She has obviously done some meticulous research, evident in the notes/themes portion at the end of the novel. I loved this part, it delved a little deeper, explained some connections and locations that inspired the author, and even provided a little vocab list!
However…. I was disappointed towards the end of the novel. It kept feeling like things were coming to a close but there would still be one hundred pages to go. Then it happened again, with fifty pages to go. Then again, with twenty. Oh okay, you get the picture! I think some people may think this was a nice touch by the author to keep us guessing, however I felt things had been nicely rounded off and there was no need to continue in this way.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):