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4.0 out of 5 stars A complex and sometimes difficult read but one that will be rewarding to the right reader, 9 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Purefinder (Paperback)
Gwalchmi has created a phantasmagorical journey through 1858 London. Purefoy is a "Purefinder", a collector of s*** (called Pure in slang) which is sold to the tanners.

"Though they called it mud, everyone in London knew what they were treading on. There were children who remained barefoot throughout the day so that they could get it between their toes. Their only sand was manure"

A child is killed and Purefoy is collared by the enigmatic pseudonymous Murphy as the culprit to be taken to justice. The two then embark on a foot journey across the city which serves to explore 1850's London through their eyes. It is not an easy book to read, Gwalchmi's prose often needs for you to work at it to glean the meaning and occasionally was a little too obscure for this reader. There is not much in the way of plot, being more a development of the two men's relationship and what has brought them both to this time and place. A smorgasboard of odd characters are encountered and interacted with, my favourites being the street gang known as the "Mighty Cabinet Group" because "if you cross them you'll end up in a cabinet". The book is full of cant and slang and language and most notably several dialogues in Welsh (translation is provided) and Gwalchmi is obviously enjoying himself digging in the rich soil of British language.

"London has always been a polyglot. London is where we run to hear new, fantastical imaginings of language; where we wrap ourselves in foreign matter in the knowledge that a cocoon of experience will enable us to lose and warm ourselves until we've wings enough to take our newly communicative selves elsewhere. The City speaks only one language, London speaks with infinite variations."

The journey, highlighting as it does the London poor, is a juxtaposition with today's austerity society, several times the characters speak of what it would be like in 150 years' time. Through it all runs the rivers and the streets which serve as characters on their own.

The back reads "Purefinder is a Gothic-horror historical thriller with a metaphysical edge; a circadian, Dantean exploration of London, loss, and fraternity; mystery, blood, mud, and guts combined; Rabelaisian relief; human tragedy; and the important questions at the heart of any time" and that summation sentence is more in keeping with the text than any I could attempt. This isn't a forgettable book and some of the imagery will stay with me, probably as I had to be wide awake and paying attention whenever I picked up the book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 2 May 2014
This review is from: Purefinder (Kindle Edition)
“Purefinder” by Ben Gwalchmai is a demanding and difficult read but in a very positive way. It cast an almost instant hypnotic spell over me that compelled me to carry on reading. Our hero, Purefoy, is oddly, untimely and very suddenly blamed for the death of a child. As he is running away from the alleged crime and on his way back to the workhouse he is caught and arrested by Murphy, an Irishman who becomes his master for the rest of the book through the thread of violence.
The pair tour through the terrifying, crowded, claustrophobic and truly gruesome historic London of 1858, walking from one area to the next, meeting gangs and other obscure people. There is a sense of helplessness, hopelessness and fear about Purefoy that reminded me of Franz Kafka‘s writing, of Cormac McCarthy and Jean Paul Sartre.
Breathtakingly intimate and obscure the story takes many turns and shows us different types of hell prevailing in the London of 1858. Written with authentic and artistic use of language the novel felt all too real, although it sometimes made it necessary for me to stop and read a paragraph again to ponder about the meaning behind what was written.
The colourful characters are varied and interesting, the setting believable and the mystery of what is behind this trip and where it will end kept me on tender hooks until the end. Having lived in London once, I enjoyed joining the trip through the various corners and imagining them as they would have been 150 years ago.
The psychological terror, grief, fear and thread in their respective gothic colouring together make for excellent horror writing. The historic aspects are equally well accomplished and I should imagine the book doing well with fans of either genre.
Reviewed for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews
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5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended, 1 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Purefinder (Paperback)
Having spent the whole of Christmas buried in this book, I can highly recommend Purefinder whether you are a gothic horror aficionado or (like me) a relative newcomer to the genre.

Gwalchmai has an exceptional understanding of the physicality of grief, fear, affection and hopelessness. In Purefinder, he takes the reader into the very body of his protagonist and holds him there. We are relentlessly marched through the filthy streets of Victorian London, tugged along by the very visceral nature of the world created before us. Here is a world where violence is never far from the surface and choice is frequently between one hell and the next. Within this gothic squalor, the glimmers of hope, fraternity and redemption are rendered all the stronger and all the more precarious.

In Purefinder, Gwalchmai takes us through the passage of a day, zooming in and out with ease, from the existential woes of his characters to candid reflections on the socio-economic context of the day. Perhaps most ambitiously, he uses this as a lens through which to view modern contexts and concerns. This can sometimes feel a little jarring but I suspect this is the author's intent, tugging gently on our collars to remind us that all good fiction holds court with fact.
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Purefinder by Ben Gwalchmai (Paperback - 13 Dec 2013)
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