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The Journal of Dora Damage Hardcover – 5 Nov 2007


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; 1st Edition edition (5 Nov. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747585229
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747585220
  • Product Dimensions: 14.1 x 22.4 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 901,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

`A triumph ... Starling created a witty and sympathetic heroine whose modern pluck enhances her charm' -- Francesca Segal, Observer

`A wonderfully vivid tale of intrigue, corruption and deceit ... Starling has left behind a heroine who is a testament to her talent and imagination' -- Alex Clark, Red Magazine

`Starling skillfully conjures up a dank, deviant London ... All the elements of the Victorian city metropolis are faithfully rendered... Her bustling, energetic book is a worthy addition to the ranks of historical fiction' -- Catherine Taylor, Guardian

About the Author

Belinda Starling lived in Wivenhoe, Essex with her husband and children and died in August 2006.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Lincs Reader TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 29 Oct. 2007
Format: Hardcover
Belinda Starling grasps you by the hand and pulls the reader into Victorian London from the very first page of this fantastic story.

Dora Damage takes over her ill husband's book binding business in 1860. Although this is frowned upon by her neighbours and associates, Dora is determined to make a living for her family. She is soon to find herself binding pornographic books on the orders of the aristocracy. Very quickly Dora finds herself caught up in lawlessness, slavery, bare knuckle fighting, sex and money.

Dora's Journal conjures up Victorian London excellently, the filth, the smell, the poverty, the perversity of the rich and the misery of the poor.

The history of book binding is fascinating and well researched. The issues of family values and the freedom from slavery are dealt with sensitively and also with a passion and in vivid explanation.

I devoured this book in three days and truly did not want it to end, but was just as keen to find out the fate of Dora, her daughter Lucinda, Din the negro slave and Lady Sylvia.

It was with real sadness that I read that Belinda Starling died soon after completing the book. This is an excellent first novel, on a par with Sarah Waters, it is a great loss that we will not be able to enjoy further novels from this wonderful author.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. S. Payne on 23 July 2008
Format: Hardcover
This story follows Dora Damage as she takes over her ill husband's book binding business. A woman running a business is very frowned upon by her neighbours and customers but she needs to make a living to support her child. As money becomes harder to come by, she starts binding illegal pornographic books for her wealthier clients. As often happens in illegal business, she finds herself getting deeper and deeper into this new world of slavery, sex and money.
This book really brings you into the sights, sounds and smells of 19th century London. I found the story a bit tricky to get into at first and I very nearly gave up but I am so glad that I didn't. Overall, the characters are very well written but I found Nora's romance a bit unbelievable and very predictable. I found the ending a bit weak but I still enjoyed the read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bookwoman TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 11 Aug. 2011
Format: Paperback
If you fancy a satisfyingly thick historical novel of the non-romantic sort that's heavy on detail and atmosphere, with a bit of darkness and naughtiness thrown in, then you should give this a try.
It's a great premise: a woman teetering on the edge of the workhouse when faced with supporting a sick husband and child keeps the family bookbinding business afloat by getting involved in the murky world of Victorian porn.
But am I the only one who found it rather alienating? And, sometimes, downright weird? The lack of focus certainly made me dizzy. The descriptions of life in mid Victorian Lambeth are brilliantly done, and you learn a lot about the world of publishing and the people who worked in it at the time. But then you're whisked from the working class streets to some sort of kinky secret society, a fight club, a Limehouse opium den and tattoo parlour, a political meeting, and an upper class drawing room. Dora's family is straight out of Dickens (was there ever such a sentimental portrayal of a child?) but her friends and associates include a gay bookbinder, a society woman with strange fantasies about black men, various pornographers, a freed negro slave, and a dodgy doctor who also happens to be an explorer. Trying too hard to be interesting, do you think?
Dora is a wonderful creation but I didn't think that any of her relationships with the other characters were particularly convincing. The tone is uncertain (towards the end it's more like a gothic horror story), the prose and dialogue don't exactly flow. And despite the fact that it skipped about so randomly, I found the plot to be predictable (well, maybe not the tattooed buttocks ...) and the themes heavy-handed. And, as always, I could have done without the lazy epilogue tacked on at the end.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ellis Bell on 25 April 2009
Format: Paperback
Dora Damage is the wife of a lesser-known bookbinder in Ivy-street in London. Her husband suffers from rheumatism, and her daughter has epilepsy, also known as the Falling Sickness. When Peter Damage becomes to sick to continue with his work, Dora finds herself taking over the business, and she takes on a client who wants her to bind copies of salacious literature. Dora becomes acquainted with the client's wife, who enlists Dora's help in finding a job at the bindery for an American slave named Din.

I was on the fence about this book. On one hand, I love the atmospheric setting; London in the 1850s and `60s is a great place to escape to when reading historical fiction. And although the characters are well-defined, that's not necessarily a good thing; some of the characters descend into being stereotypes (the silly, empty-headed noblewoman, the cardboard cutout villain, or the fallen woman-turned maid-of-all-work). The dialogue of the African-Americans didn't ring true, either.

The plot of the book requires the reader to suspend their sense of disbelief, too (one example is the character of Sylvia, who seemed to drop her old life in Berkeley Square at an astonishing speed, later taking on lovers with blatant disregard for what might happen). I thought the author cheapened the book a bit by including the romance part. And I could see the ending coming from a mile away. But the book's strength is recreating a time period that's long-gone; Victorian London is described in painstaking detail. I also enjoyed Starling's descriptions of the art of bookbinding.
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