Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Prodigal

It is easy in the end, to stand in the wreckage, much easier than she had hoped, the huge door tilting on its hinges, parallelograms of sky at unreasonable angles. Alisha stands in the middle of the space and makes herself breathe in the mushroom smells of wet-wood, clover and owl-life. A broken chair lies on its side, rotting into the earth, its pink paint peeling away in fatigue patterns.

Outside in the field, the day is forfeiting its light to the storm, a low sky billows out before the wind, grey as a forgotten sheet. Alisha feels in her pocket for the key, but it is no available. Her fingers worry the dusty corners of her pockets, make themselves sore for what is irretrievable now. At the far end of the barn is the ladder, staggering up to the old hayloft. Old rosettes hang at jinxed angles. She remembers warming her hands on the side of the horse, creeping in here to lean against a single true thing, but it is as though she once read about it, rather than did it.

The rain comes in from the West, with its puzzling, volatile perfume. And at the edge of the field the evening's ignorant owl cries Who? into the dropping light. I am writing this so that it will stay true.

Reading List: Derby Day D J Taylor

This is D J Taylor's second Victoriana novel, a clever pastiche of Victorian mystery, which details the events leading up to the great race, and the conniving machinations of the central character Happerton. The most intriguing relationship in the novel is that between Happerton and his wife Rebecca, for if Happerton is no more or less than a scheming bounder, then Rebecca has a much more credibly dark edge to her character. Cooler than Happerton, and more judicious, she is capable of great, if unrealised, passion, and it is this glancing passion that lends the novel its finest moments.

Derby Day has some splendid set scenes, and the descriptions of Scroop Hall are pleasingly atmospheric, but it is unfortunately almost impossible to read without comparison to Sarah Waters Fingersmith and The Little Friend comparisons which don't favour this novel. To be sure, it is on the whole well plotted (with the possible exception of the jewellery raid in the middle which seemed a bit out of place) and the characterisation and setting are polished and satisfying, but there is something just a bit flat about it. Maybe the pastiche overshadowed Taylor's voice, so that it read more like an incredibly accomplished exercise, than a fully realised world of its own. It was technically impressive but lacking in unique sensibility,. There was insufficient that was thrilling about this novel, in the end, to make me feel like it had been a worthy addition to the Booker longlist.