Sunday, May 30, 2021

Will Starling is a wonderful 19th century English Gothic novel by a 21st century Canadian

I've been thoroughly enjoying Ian Weir's book Will Starling (just as I enjoyed his Daniel O'Thunder).

Like Daniel O'Thunder, it is set in 19th century London, although in this case some decades earlier, specifically the year 1816. It is a lurid Gothic adventure tale of grave-robbers, madmen, prostitutes and amoral surgeons/anatomists. It is a tale of ambition, obsession, infatuation, perdition, redemption and, apparently, resurrection. And it reads very much like a Dickens novel - despite its modern, contemporary authorship - both in its colourfully idiomatic language (very much Dickensian rather than the more formal Austen-esque, despite its historical setting), in its larger-than-lipfe characters, and in its painstaking detail and social commentary.

Mr. Weir is also a dab hand with an elliptically descriptive turn of phrase. Here are three sentences from different parts of just one page:

"There was an outer room where a Spavined Clerk worked at a table piled high with papers, the dust of ages rising and settling as he stirred."

"His wig lay strewn and lifeless in the corner, as if it had scuttled into the street at the unluckiest of moments and been run over by a carriage wheel."

"Eyebrows arched at the sight of me, like chalk-dusted caterpillars."

And he throws in some lovely, suitably Georgian-sounding exclamations, like "God's teeth!", "Christ on a biscuit!" and "By God's great swinging bollocks!" Who knows whether they are actually authentic early 19th century London-speak, but who really cares?

Perhaps the most remarkable thing, though, is that Weir is not a Cockney at all, but a Canadian (technically born on North Carolina, but brought up, largely educated and still living in Canada).

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