2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Atmospheric but a bit too long,
This review is from: The Whores' Asylum (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Mostly The Whore's Asylum is a fantastic, rich, atmospheric book. It is a Victorian gothic mystery that, for the first four and a half sections is every bit the equal of Sarah Waters. We see two men - Edward Foster and Stephen Chapman, one scholar of divinity and the other a scholar of medicine - called on a mission to save the fallen women of Oxford. Thus, they let their ties to the university and the tranquility of Worcester College lake lapse and take up residence in the squalid suburb of Jericho - a rabbit warren of cottages and terraces slotted in between the canal and the Radcliffe Infirmary, the haunt of women of dubious morals, low public houses and Lucy's Ironworks. Their motives are not exactly clear and become even more opaque when Foster runs into a woman he once knew in Cambridge...
The novel is then chunked into five narratives , some in the past and some in the present, offering different viewpoints to the stories of bluff and double bluff. It is very well done indeed. The story is highly gothic and over the top, but remains intriguing because of the richness of the characters and their complex motives. Even the most stylised characters turn out to have hidden depths.
Where the novel doesn't quite succeed is the pacing. For four and a half sections the pacing is right. But the fifth section - the one which brings things together - is too long. In any mystery, once the truth is revealed, the story is over and needs to be brought home as quickly as possible. Katy Darby instead ploughs on for at least sixty superfluous pages including an unnecessary and interminable series of postscripts. Sure, the final pages do offer some food for thought but it takes far too long to get there and the Victorian novel didn't need to be prolonged into the 20th century.
Also, the drawings are a bit naff and somewhat undermine the authenticity of the framing device of found papers.
Overall, though, The Whore's Asylum is a worthwhile and enjoyable read. This reader remembers Jericho with affection - a collection of student housing, cafes and charity shops; it is interesting to see it dressed in different clothes.