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Derby Day [Hardcover]

D J Taylor
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
RRP: 17.99
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Book Description

2 Jun 2011

As the shadows lengthen over the June grass, all England is heading for Epsom Downs - high life and low life, society beauties and Whitechapel street girls, bookmakers and gypsies, hawkers and acrobats, punters and thieves. Whole families stream along the Surrey back-roads, towards the greatest race of the year. Hopes are high, nerves are taut, hats are tossed in the air - this is Derby Day.

For months people have been waiting and plotting for this day. Even in dark November, when the wind whistles through the foggy London courts, the alehouses and gentlemen's clubs echo to the sound of disputed odds. In Belgrave Square old Mr Gresham is baffled by his tigerish daughter Rebecca, whose intentions he cannot fathom. In the clubs of St James's rakish Mr Happerton plays billiards with his crony Captain Raff, while in darkest Lincolnshire sad Mr Davenant broods over his financial embarrassments and waits for his daughter's new governess. Across the channel the veteran burglar Mr Pardew is packing his bags to return, to the consternation of the stalwart detective Captain McTurk. Everywhere money jingles and plans are laid. Uniting them all is the champion horse Tiberius, on whose performance half a dozen destinies depend.

In this rich and exuberant novel, rife with the idioms of Victorian England, the mysteries pile high, propelling us towards the day of the great race, and we wait with bated breath as the story gallops to a finish that no one expects.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus (2 Jun 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0701183586
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701183585
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 352,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Derby Day is a triumphant success...in this unputdownable Victorian romp [Taylor] enjoyable proves himself to be one of the finest of our 21st-century novelists" (Financial Times)

"Rich and gorgeous as a plum cake, this is absorbing entertainment indeed" (Kate Saunders Times)

"Taylor, as you would expect of such an accomplished novelist and biographer, has immersed himself in the details of the early 1860s. The novel is richly redolent of the novels of Wilkie Collins, Dickens and Thackeray. The characters who plot and squirm throughout the course of Derby Day are fully rounded and memorably drawn and the atmosphere is palpable. In fact here is an intelligent novel which is also a genuine page-turner. Truly a terrific read" (Daily Express)

"Derby Day is pitch-perfect... It's enormous fun and meticulously researched and conceived" (Guardian)

"Taylor has written an exceptionally clever pastiche nineteeth-century novel with a richness of character that almost matches his models of Dickens and Thackeray" (Sunday Times)

Book Description

A gripping novel of romance and rivalry, gambling and greed, from acclaimed novelist and biographer D.J. Taylor

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly great 6 Sep 2011
By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having read and reviewed all the other 2011 Booker longlisted novels, I suppose I ought to complete the set with a review of Derby Day. But on Shortlist Eve, I'm struggling to summon up any enthusiasm for the task.

It's not that Derby Day was a bad novel. In many ways, it was just the sort of thing that floats my boat - a Victorian novel with a convoluted plot, larger than life characters, dastardly villains and heaps of fog. Yet, for all this, it seemed to be a bit of a Me-Too. Every bit as good as any other Victorian mystery (except, perhaps, for Fingersmith and Affinity), but not anything terribly remarkable. The prose was excellent, the story was taut and Mrs Rebecca was surprisingly scheming. The ending felt underplayed which was strange since it seemed to drag on for so long.

One curiosity was the safe cracking scene in the middle. This scene was a re-writing of a near identical scene from Taylor's previous novel: At The Chime Of A City Clock. The detailing had been brought forward 70 years and there were one or two incidental differences, but it was somewhere in excess of 20 pages of recycled material. The retelling was competent; better, even, than the original but it felt odd - all the more so since this strand of the story didn't seem strictly necessary. Perhaps it made Mr Happerton seem slightly more scheming and nefarious although his involvement in the robbery was never quite clear.

If this seems lukewarm, it is perhaps unfair. For the most part, Derby Day was great fun to read and genuinely suspenseful. Some of the characters were terrific, especially Major Hubbins, the jockey - a man of expensive tastes and a pride that is easily piqued. The aforementioned Rebecca is also well drawn and has shades of both black and white.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'And am I to accompany you to Epsom?' 27 Oct 2011
By purpleheart TOP 100 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
'Sky the colour of a fish's underside; grey smoke diffusing over a thousand house-fronts; a wind moving in from the East: London.'

D.J Taylor's Victorian melodrama opens with a description of Clipstone Court, a murky part of London near Tottenham Court Road where murky dealings are taking place in a tavern. The tone is that of a strange genre - the meticulous pastiche of the Victorian novel which engages and intrigues, but which still somehow displays a 21st Century edge and sensibility. The novel starts with background characters, part of the racing and betting world which will draw in all the characters we are introduced to over the course of 404 pages.

In terms of geography the novel ranges from Belgravia to Soho in London, to Lincolnshire and, of course, to Epsom on Derby Day where Tiberius will race for the biggest prize of the season and fortunes will be made and lost. In terms of class D.J Taylor shows us the underside of each class - from the Greshams who skirt upper class respectability, to a farmer on the edge of ruin to the criminal classes and to prosperous lawyers unloved by their families. There are few characters who rise above the murkiness - Mr Glenister, Miss Ecclestone and Captain McTurk who do so remain in the background whilst the foreground is aswirl with the unsavoury dealings of Mr and Mrs Happerton and their confederates. The sociopathic Rebecca Happerton is as manipulative as her namesake in Vanity Fair but far less socially adept and charming. Her husband is wily but does not succeed in gaining our reluctant admiration of a rogue.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unusual and engaging 28 Jun 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I was delighted with this book as I have not come across D J Taylor before. His determination to write in "Victorian" prose could be false and irritating but he carries it off with great aplomb, which left me full of admiration for his style. It never appears dated or affected. While the cast of characters is wide, all of them are developed in appropriate depth. The story is well crafted and made a delightful holiday read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A winner 16 April 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A great Victorian tale, about a horse, Tiberius, a race, the Derby, and a wide cast of colourful characters from all sections of society. The story canters along before coming to a climax worthy of any great race. I especially liked the female personae; despite being nominally second-class citizens they hold the reins in this novel. The men, conversely, appear as frequently befuddled as any hopeless gambler.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly enjoyable 6 Sep 2011
Format:Hardcover
It's possible "Derby Day" wasn't nominated for the Man Booker short list because it's too accessible and commercially appealing. It's prodigiously researched and full of interesting detail. It's also quite funny in parts.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Having read D.J.Taylor's earlier Victorian-pastiche novel "Kept", I was eager to read 'Derby Day', particularly as the concept i.e a novel based on Frith's painting 'Derby Day', seemed so engaging. I'm also an enthusiast for 'Vic. Lit' novels, such as Sarah Waters' 'Fingersmith', Charles Palliser's 'Quincunx' and Faber's 'Crimson Petal and the White', and as such, couldn't help comparing my response to this book with my feelings about those three masterpieces, all of which I look forward to reading again, whereas I'm not sure I shall ever re-read 'Derby Day'.
This is a very well researched novel (apart from an error on page 5, where the St Leger is described as though it's a steeplechase--this faux pas almost caused a racing enthusiast friend to stop reading then and there!), and the style, a pastiche of Dickens, is exquisite, although rather obviously derivative at times. I did however, encounter two problems: firstly, none of the characters, apart perhaps from the peripheral figures of Mr Glenister and Miss Ellington who really should be given a more central role in my view, are in the least sympathetic, (maybe it's a flaw in me, but I like to care about at least one character in a book, and one can 'care' for very flawed people, for example Raskolnikov) and secondly, the plot, described on the dust-jacket as a 'mystery' is not a mystery at all, so I'm not sure how well D.J.Taylor has been served by this misdirection from the publisher.
I did enjoy this book very much, and was glad I persisted to the end despite the longeurs that hit me temporarily two thirds of the way through.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Victorian Pastiche
If Charles Dickens had not existed would the world have found it necessary to invent him? Derby Day, coming as it does amidst a great rush of similar Victorian pastiche, seems to... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Amy James
4.0 out of 5 stars fun
gallops along, some evil characters, reminds me of victorian melodrama, a good historical novels not always easy to find but great when they are successful, they pull you into... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Bridget Tuck
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripped and informed
Derby Day is a novel I enjoyed for several reasons including the interesting historical setting of class and style-ridden Victorian society (with a considerable insight into its... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Roberta McDonnell
2.0 out of 5 stars More of a plod than a gallop
This is a crime story set around the Epsom Derby race in the late 19th century that is more of trudge through a muddy field than a dash round one of the world's most famous... Read more
Published 11 months ago by John Fitzpatrick
5.0 out of 5 stars Always a treat
I don't (or didn't) know the first thing about horse-racing, but I was so enchanted by D.J. Taylor's previous historical novel Kept: A Victorian Mystery that I didn't hesitate for... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Didier
4.0 out of 5 stars Derby Day
I enjoyed this story once I got into it as there were several sub plots and different characters to assimilate. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Brendasonas
3.0 out of 5 stars Victoriana
This is a page turner. I liked the idea of a novel as full of characters as Frith's Derby Day and appreciated the illusions to characters like the street acrobats that appear in... Read more
Published 20 months ago by KAW
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful evocation of Victorian England
I really enjoyed reading this novel. The evocation of Victorian England is beautifully observed and brought to life without any feeling that the author is lecturing to you. Read more
Published 21 months ago by LP
5.0 out of 5 stars Derby Day
This is a wonderful read. After the first page you are hooked - it is full of fabulous characters (black, white and grey!). I shall read all of D J Taylors novels after this!
Published on 28 Nov 2011 by marilyn
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