What’s it all about?:
Dicky Perrott, born into the Jago’s casual crime and violence, has inarticulate yearnings towards other possibilities. At first, he dreams of becoming a High Mobsman – one of the aristocrats of Jago crime. With the arrival of Father Sturt, he sees how his horizons might alter. But the Jago holds fast to its own. Dicky’s path takes him through a savage but colourful community of fighting tribes, pickpockets and cosh-carriers, where the police only ever enter in threes, and where murder erupts with an unusual horror and intimacy.
What did I think?:
The East End of London in the late 19th century was sometimes quite a pitiful place, the slums in particular, where just making it through the day was an achievement in itself. Crime, violence, prostitution and poverty were rife, and I think Arthur Morrison paints a vivid portrait of the squalor at that period of time in this short novel. Our main character, Dicky Perrott has known nothing else but the life in the Jago, with only one rule for life – “thou shall not nark,” and seen no other solution to his family’s poverty but crime. Unfortunately, his father is not much of a role model for him, when he is imprisoned for theft and violence against a “High Mobsman,” and his mother did little to gain my sympathy by playing a rather passive role in trying to improve their situation.
What did surprise me about this book was the level of violence which I hadn’t expected from the onset. There are rival gang wars and murders aplenty, and the horrifying tradition of “coshing,” where a young woman would distract the gentleman target enough so that he could be bopped on the head and left unconscious, while the perps made off with anything valuable he had on him. Throughout the novel, there is an air of melancholy, made even more poignant by the fact that we know as the reader that these were people’s situations in the East End at that time, and either nobody seemed to give a damn, they flat-out denied there was even a problem, or they turned a blind eye to the ghastly poverty. Father Sturt, who comes to take over the parish (and save all the sinners) is a beacon of light through the story, attempting to change the tenant’s fortunes, even though he has little hope of succeeding.
So, as a novel describing the East End, Arthur Morrison captured the situation so perfectly, and I did enjoy the book as a whole, understanding the message he was trying to get out, although it felt in general that there was something missing for me. Perhaps it was slightly too short and I didn’t feel I got to know the characters properly, although I have to admit the ending really lifted the book again in my estimation, it was fast-paced, exciting, and thoroughly horrible!
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):