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Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars

on 21 May 2014
I find myself wavering about this novel. Half of me thinks it’s only medium good—standard, intelligent, late-Victorian/Edwardian fiction, without Stevenson’s quicksilver eye and prose, or even Arnold Bennett’s dogged lyricism. The other half thinks it’s actually rather powerful in the relentlessness of its vision, and almost brutal, in an interesting way —in particular, with what it does with its not-quite heroine Marian Yule.

<i>New Grub Street</i> opens on a note of literal gallows humor, when we see the young Jasper Milvain winding up his sisters by expressing his liking for reading about executions (“There’s a certain satisfaction in reflecting that it is not oneself.”) Jasper has plenty of opportunities to enjoy this charitable sensation as he pursues his arduous path to literary success. His rise is accompanied on all sides by the spectacle of less “adapted” writers (Darwin is definitely a subtext) descending into poverty, sickness, and despair.

This makes the novel sound depressing, and it should be, with this subject matter. In fact, it’s actually quite an enjoyable read. If I can say this without sounding too disparaging, it has something of a soap opera feel about it, with a fairly broad cast of flattish characters choreographed into satisfying moral and emotional geometries. The setting is very interesting and vividly realized: the half-gentlemanly, half-cutthroat world of journalism and literary publishing in 1880s London, with some details curiously reminiscent of today. The appealing minor character Whelpdale finally makes his career with a vanity school for would-be authors—“novel-writing taught in ten lessons”—and a periodical made up of articles measuring no more than two inches in length, with every inch broken into at least two paragraphs, for readers “incapable of sustained attention.”

Some of the historical detail in the book I found fascinating. There’s a weird account of a morning in a smog-filled interior (“The thick black fog penetrated every corner of the house. It could be smelt and tasted … ”). And I loved it when three characters had dinner in an “à la mode beef shop” —perhaps the 1880s equivalent of St John? Sometimes the pleasure in these details is made up of dramatic irony. In this genre, I particularly enjoyed the reference to “one of the most shocking alleys in the worst part of Islington.”
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on 22 August 2014
A very interesting story of the writing publication industry, be it novels or newspapers, as the characters were well-drawn and the topic of relevance today, especially the way to get the massses to buy newspapers. The descriptions of different levels of society and the desperation when no money was coming in are also still relevant (I cried) although we don't have the workhouse as such.
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on 7 August 2014
One of my all-time favourite novels
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on 8 March 2013
This book is a revelation as regards writing in the Victorian era when three volume novels were beginning to be phased out in favour of single volumes. Leaving aside the "greats" it focusses on the day to day grind of writing for a living, articles for magazines churned out to order to scrape a living and subsidise the writing of "the novel" The characters in the main are impoverished and miserable and driven by money not art.
Don't expect to be cheered or uplifted, the only characters who succeed are the cynical unpleasant ones.
Having said all that, it is very well written and being based partly on Gissing's own experiences it has the ring of truth and characters who will engage you.
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on 26 August 2014
A good read.
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on 12 August 2014
For my wife - think it is OK.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 January 2016
An excellent, psychologically penetrating account of literary life in the late 1800s. Funny, serious, dark. It has that swampy ability to suck you in like the best Victorian novels do, despite their length. The writing is excellent, and the presentation and development of each of the character arcs is really very strong indeed. Lives join and unravel and end in tragedy and threaten hope and joy and never quite make it and sometimes do. There are maddening moments and heartbreaking ones, and everything in between. The characters are above all human, despite the element of side this novel has in its wink towards portraying the toilers of grub street and the paradox of literary aspiration - they are self interested and kind and generous and loving and sensitive and short-tempered, all at the same time. A great book.
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on 10 August 2013
As I thought it was based on the hugely popular Radio 4 comedy 'Ed Reardon's Week', imagine my disappointment on reading this offering from young Gissing. It's not funny at all, at least not intentionally. Thing is the minor characters are better than the obsessive looser Reardon, who's prolly based on old Gissing himself. Reardon's nemesis Mulvain is a delight as are the very interesting and nicely developed female characters with forgettable Victorian names. To tell you the truth I really did only read half of it. I stopped after Reardon's wife pointed out that he couldn't write what the public want and his reaction was: 'you don't love me'.
As a piece of literary social history it is an important novel, I guess. Mulvain's points about what literature is for are as pertinent today as they were at the end of the 19th century: to make money for publishers and hence the industry must use the latest technology (Note: I was reading it on Kindle, unlike my first try with this novel as a student in the late 1960s when I lost my copy in a Lancaster launderette). I started to re-read New Grub Street because it featured favourably on Radio 4's hugely popular 'The Write Stuff'. More fool me.
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on 24 July 2013
I'm glad this book was free! Thought I'd give Gissing a try, but should have known that the 19th century style and language would make for a turgid read. No offence to Gissing fans, it's just me. Same reason I don't read James and Conrad.
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on 3 December 2015
Another very sad book. The conclusion seemed to be that when people are educated to a certain level they feel they must earn their living in a certain way, even if they starve. This particular man wanted to be a writer, but he couldn't sell his work. He also refused to write the kind of book that people might buy. He struggled until he was so ill he couldn't even do the clerical work which had helped to support him, and died at an early age.
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