The Quick by Lauren Owen is out today, 3 April. I finished reading it just yesterday, as I was lucky to get hold of a free proof copy from the publisher, Jonathan Cape.
The novel starts in a derelict Yorkshire manor house Aiskew Hall, where two young children, Charlotte and James, are left more or less to their own devices. Their mother is dead, their father is away most of the time. They are unloved and abandoned, playing dangerous games. There is a mock priest hole built in by a romantic ancestor of theirs in the library, which opens with a secret spring. Children challenge each other to go through an ordeal of being locked in the dark priest hole. The priest hole is Lauren Owen's Chekhovian gun, i.e. the important element in the narrative to which she comes again and again as the story unfolds. Chekhov said "Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter is absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there".
The priest hole will appear at the end of the novel, with the most unnerving conclusion (I am not going to spoil the story, so you will have to find it out yourselves).
The first hundred pages tell us a story of young James growing up and aspiring to be a writer, moving to London and falling in love. So far, so very Dickensian, a sort of Great Expectations.
Lauren Owen is a skillful storyteller who knows her Victorian England. She is an Oxford graduate and did her MA in Victorian literature and PhD on Gothic writing, and her profound knowledge of the era is manifest on every page.
The Quick is her first novel.
You get lulled into the pace of the historical narrative, but after the first hundred pages, you are abruptly taken to a different dimension, and the historical genre transcends into the realm of the supernatural. It becomes a borderline mix of Great Expectations meets Dracula.
Now, I am not the biggest fan of the supernatural. All the Twilight saga business has completely passed me by. I was a bit apprehensive at that point, do I continue reading even if it's not my genre any longer? But here I need to give a full credit to the writing talents of Lauren Owen. I wanted to know what was going to happen next.
And then London's mysterious Aegolius Club will invite you in. Which dark secrets does it hide? The narrative is picked up and is retold in notebooks of Augustus Mould also known as Doctor Death. I was fascinated and repulsed in equal measure.
There are many characters and sub-plots, which twist and inter-twine, taking you along a sinister journey. The suspence is almost intolerable. You will want to keep reading until the last page is turned over.
This macabre Gothic novel comes with endorsements by Hilary Mantel and Kate Atkinson.
"A sly and glittering addition to the literature of the macabre... As soon as you have breathed with relief, much worse horrors begin" (Hilary Mantel)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------If you enjoyed my review, you might be glad to find out that I have one copy of The Quick to give away, as kindly offered by Vintage Books.
To be in with a chance of winning this splendid first novel by Lauren Owen, please enter using the Rafflecopter gadget.
Only the first step is mandatory: all you need is to answer the question by leaving a comment (there is no right or wrong answer)
(if you login as Anonymous, please leave your Twitter name or FB name, so that I could identify you, I do not suggest leaving the email address in the comment)
All the other steps are optional, you don't have to do them all. All it takes to win is just one entry.
Only one entry per person is allowed (however, you can tweet daily to increase your chances).
The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Once the Rafflecopter picks the winner, I will check if the winner has done what was requested. I will contact the winner, if they do not reply within 28 days, the prize will be allocated to another person.
If you haven't used the Rafflecopter before, you might want to watch this simple video.
The giveaway will close on 25 April at midnight (night from the 24th to 25th).