After killing my kindle I had to turn to my bookshelves for a read for my commute to work. I picked this book up at a swap event on World Book Night and have been meaning to read it for a while.
Gentleman's son Gabriel arrives in London in 1826 to study with one of the city's greatest anatomists. It is a time where the study of the human body is thriving, but to serve the demand for cadavers there is a seamier side to the city. Not only is Gabriel exposed to body snatchers, he also begins to associate with prostitutes and drug users. In time he is drawn to the underworld and discovers how easy it is to forget your morals. Transferring his allegiance to his tutor's rival signals the end of his life as a respectable young man.
I love historical fiction and this was an alluring prospect. This is essentially a book of three parts; the young man finding his feet in a new city, the descent into addiction and crime and what comes thereafter. The author offers up a dark view of the London of the time, with plenty of description to conjure up the feel of places Gabriel visits. Some of the descriptions of the work of the grave robbers and anatomists made me feel a bit queasy, being fairly blunt. However as evocative as the writing is, I began to find the narrative wordy and had to stop myself skimming the text on more than one occasion.
I found that the tale was very nuanced and a lot of information was left to inference and supposition. I don't mind an author leaving parts open to interpretation but it was too frequent in this book and I felt like I was doing all the work. I struggled to get through the second part in particular, despite it being to most shocking part of the tale, but felt the novel was redeemed by the final part. Possibly because the characters and their conduct remained fairly mysterious I didn't really care what happened to any of them, which was a shame because they should have been a rich cast.
Had it not been for the third part of the book I think I'd have given this book a lower rating than I have. However the ending rounded off the story in a way I appreciated and I preferred the slightly different feel to it. Overall it's not a book I'd recommend and I think I'd want to sample any other work by the author before buying another one of his books.
Publisher: Faber & Faber
My Rating: 2*