So… I actually read The Wicked Boy, written by Kate Summerscale, last year, meant to review it, and completely spaced.
The Wicked Boy was released in July 2016, and is a nonfiction account of an actual matricide perpetuated in Victorian London. 13-year-old Robert Coombes stabbed his mother while his father was out at sea. Summerscale carefully researched this account, and writes the details in a competent and fairly interesting manner. Did Robert have conspirators? If so, how involved were they? Why would Robert have committed the crime that he did? What happened after the murder was discovered? All aspects considered within this book.
When I picked this book up, I was expecting a fictional narrative. And this work, while interesting, does not provide me with the closure that a novel could have given. In a fiction work you can come up with a specific reason – Robert was protecting his brother, for instance – for the crime. In a non-fiction, research book, no definitives can be given. While this lack of closure is because the crime actually occurred, and people are messy, as are their motivations for doing things. Going into the book with that expectation, however, resulted in my feeling sorely disappointed when it was not furnished. As such, my main criticism of the novel is not a criticism against the author; it is, instead, a warning for readers. If you’re not generally a non-fiction fan, there’s a good chance you won’t like this book.
My other quibble with this book, is that I felt that last several chapters were unnecessary. Because Summerscale cannot provide resolution regarding the murder, she attempts to provide it by exploring the life that Robert Coombes lived afterwards, which *spoiler alert!*seems to indicate that he was able to come to terms with whatever motivations led to the matricide, and become a productive citizen. While I feel that I understand what she was trying to accomplish – maybe people can change! If provided with the appropriate tools and opportunities – it didn’t quite work for me. Perhaps if the last few chapters had been condensed, it would have worked for me. But the way it’s currently written, the ending drags on, and I certainly don’t care as much about the resolution as the author herself.
Overall, this book was… okay. I think that true crime buffs, and non-fiction readers interested in information about England in the Victorian era will find it interesting. Intrigued and wishing it were a novel? Give it a pass. Researching middle-class crime in the Victorian era? Give it a read.
Have you read this book? What were your thoughts? I would love to read them!
I recently read Gordon Dahlquist’s The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, and my opinion is summarized by my title.
It was a slog.
With a length of 750 pages, there are only 10 chapters. Call me old-fashioned, but I like the feeling of accomplishment received by completing a chapter.
The book starts off by grabbing the attention, introducing the reader to Miss Temple, a woman in her mid-twenties who was raised on a plantation, and seems somewhat savage to the English Victorian society she has recently joined as she waits for her fiance to wed her so they can culminate their relationship in some real savagery. Except… Roger, her fiance, decides to end their engagement, instead. He doesn’t really tell her why, and it drives her crazy. Not because she loved him – dear me, she’s stronger than that, don’t be ridiculous! – but just because she needs to know the reason why.
There is also the man ubiquitously known as “Cardinal,” “Chang,” or a combination of the two, due to terrible scars around his eyes that affect his eyesight, and also because people suck and are racist.
Rounding up our trio of protagonists (because I certainly will not call them heroes) is Dr. Svenson, physician to the prince of Macklenburg, a country I am fairly certain is fictional. He’s pining over his lost love, a beautiful cousin who became ill and died long before this novel started, and working for a man he neither respects nor likes, but is doing his best to keep this shit show short-lived via copious smoking.
This novel reads like a sensational action film. It has erotic undertones! It has violence! It has plot twists galore! The manner in which Dahlquist writes feels as though he is narrating a movie rather than writing a novel.
While some readers may, admittedly, find this writing style amusing, it struck me as… Not enough. At first, it’s exciting, but there is not enough of a story. It all feels like insinuation and sex and karate chops. The main characters are obviously supposed to be endearing, but I have no idea why, to be frank, I should be interested. They also seem to survive nearly insurmountable obstacles solely because the author loves them and considers them “the good guys.” The same actions that are deplored from our villains are supposed to be applauded in our heroes. The story doesn’t quite fit together, and while I continued reading, it was more out of a sense of obligation than a sense that the story might actually get better.
And don’t even hope that you’ll ever find out how the glass books are made, as all you will get is pseudo-science and the hint that some dude knows how to perform alchemy.
Thumbs down, negative stars, and a waste of my time.
Have you read it? Agree? Disagree?