london

The Quick by Lauren Owen

At the very beginning of Lauren Owen’s debut novel, The Quick, the reader is introduced to a very secretive and mysterious men’s club called the Aegolius. The number of initiates is kept to a minimum and a story is told than even when the Prince of Wales requested membership, he was turned away because the number had already been reached.

It’s the latter part of the nineteenth century and James, a young man right out of university, goes to London to try his hand at writing a play. He becomes roommates and later intimates with another previous acquaintance from Oxford. When the two men go out for a walk one night, dastardly misfortunes befall them and when James goes missing, his sister, Charlotte, arrives from Yorkshire to find her brother, which leads her to the doors of the enigmatic Aegolius club.

the quick

What initially drew me to The Quick was promise of a Gothic inspired novel set in the seedy corners of Victorian London. The book does begin this way and even has elements of such novels as it includes diary entries and other similar epistles.

However, about halfway through, something inexplicable happens–the novel becomes dreadfully dull and doesn’t pick up at all. Once James disappears, a never-ending slew of new characters are introduced. At first, I tried to keep them straight and then realized that none of them was particularly important. The narrative is thick and slow; every movement of every character is detailed for pages. If I never read about a character sitting down and sipping tea again, that day would be too soon.

I fear that Owen’s editors let her down immensely. The only conciliation is that her publisher masterfully worked up a publicity frenzy by not revealing a key plot point and adding a sense of “plot twist” around it. They also mustered up some top notch writers to blurb it. Sadly, about half of readers have ingested the proverbial Kool-Aid and rave about it on Goodreads, while the other half have the good sense to agree with me.

The writing is solid and decent. Yet, the author builds no discernible mood or landscape. This has been a huge reading letdown, which has added to my sparse posts here as this book was long and took up far too much of my time. Normally, I would’ve put the book down, but I was certain something would be a saving grace. Sadly, this was just a complete bomb.

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Halcyon Books & the £1 book

After a recent trip to the UK, I quickly realized that if I thought my book buying habit was unsuitable in NYC, then my habit would quickly spiral out of control into pure addiction if I had stayed in England and Scotland one second longer. What could really feed my habit would be the £1 sale going on over at Halcyon Books in Greenwich.

Halcyon Books is a secondhand shop after my own heart. Books are piled taking up the majority of the space resulting in patrons having to scooch around each other muttering sincerest apologies.

After entering Halcyon, my [book-loving] friend and I were in pure joy. These were not bargain books that are allocated to the sad boxes in front of shops. I wanted to procure a book that was not necessarily “literature” but something well-written and enjoyable. The search stopped when I came across this frightening PD James cover (left). I immediately returned all other contenders to the shelf and went to the register.

We also had a look at the inner cover flap which proved to have a whole series of equally disturbing covers (right). Of course, I thought to myself: “This is it. Absolutely no more books.” Right.