Set amidst the gritty poverty of Victorian London Laura Blundy is the mesmerizing exploration of a lost soul, a journal of obsessive love, and a harrowing tale that haunts.
The author of three critically acclaimed novels, most notably Me and the Fat Man (1998), Ms. Myerson has now created an otherworldly protagonist, an enigmatic woman capable of both nefarious acts and abiding devotion. It is appropriate that Laura Blundy's life, which is related in flashbacks, unfolds at a time when illness pervades; cholera takes its toll. London's city sewers are being built so that the city "will have a proper sewerage system and lives will be saved." Yet now the "normal stink of Thames," the dank sewer tunnels and the debris ridden river banks anchored by the Baptist Chapel with its forlorn, broken windows mirror Laura's murky thoughts, which are disseminated by Ms. Meyerson with candor and clarity.
Dickensian woes pale beside the travails of Laura Blundy; Dickensian villains are pussycats compared to her.
Once an educated daughter of privilege, her father's death and financial reversals have forced Laura onto the streets. She sleeps among the crawlers and dowsers on the steps of the workhouse with only a stained tarpaulin for shelter from the rain.
We learn that while imprisoned in Tatum Fields she was made to wear a thick foul smelling veil. When she protested that she could not see, the reply was, "There's nothing to see...This is it. This is the punishment - darkness and solitude - the best way to contemplate the errors of the soul."
She is 38 when we first meet her, "but my hair," she discloses is "mostly black and the teeth I had left still had their whiteness and though my waist measured a little more now than the curved gap of two men's hands, I still had a lot of my young girl's punch."
More than punch is needed when she is run down by an errant carriage, and "her woman's bones are crushed like eggshell" beneath the iron wheels. Ginger haired Dr. Ewan Lockhart manages to save her life, but not her leg which he amputates.
Eventually, Laura marries the surgeon, a "carrot-nob" as she calls him and goes to live in the home that he shares with his mother, Eve. The older woman is a harridan who makes no secret of her distaste for Laura, and demands attention from her top floor room by rattling "a tin of barley sugar."
But Laura pays no heed for her mind is consumed with thoughts of the child she bore when she was 15, earning a penny an hour making party streamers "whenever the work happened to come along." Unable to feed the baby she had taken him to an orphanage to which she returned each week, asking to see Child Z as he was known, until the day she was told he was no longer there. She pined, she yearned, she ached to find her lost boy.
"......the truth is you carry a child in you and it seeps into your bones," she says, "and infects you for ever and you spend the rest of your life trying to get it back...."
She feels a similar addictive emotion for her lover, Billy, a married sewer worker some 17 years her junior. And, Billy, for reasons he cannot fathom is inexorably drawn to her.
Determined to be with Billy Laura commits a crime of unspeakable horror, which Ms. Myerson describes in grisly detail. However, this act is only prelude to an even more shocking denouement
Laura Blundy is not a book for the faint of heart, but it is an unforgettable story propelled by currents of foreboding, and delivered with sinister, stunning panache. Ms. Myerson knows how to weave a spell and she weaves it mightily well.