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An interesting introduction to Spitalfields, but a missed opportunity by the author
on 6 November 2014
I was unsure about purchasing this book as some reviews criticised the writing. As the book went on, it is certainly not perfect. Fiona Rule's descriptive vocabulary is limited; words like "salubrious," "mean" and "overcrowded" crop up again and again. Words in one sentence are immediately repeated in another. London as both a surname and as a city crops up at one point, with the author seemingly oblivious to the confusion of its interchangeable meaning.
There are times when the book feels padded out with unnecessary historical context (immigration to Australia, various facts about France during WWI), which are then barely, if at all, brought back to Spitalfields and why this information is relevant. For the last third of the book, it seems time stands still in this location: houses are overcrowded, the conditions are bad, and the author struggles to tell much about it.
Even the chapters are comically short, often at 2-3 pages. A more accomplished author would have been able to write longer chapters with greater themes and scene-setting.
Readers will struggle to even find where Dorset Street is on a map in the book - the maps included give no clear indication and it is only until the penultimate pages is a clearer map provided. It seems a missed opportunity. Indeed, by the end of the book I still didn't really feel I got a strong sense of what Dorset Street looked like. Fiona Rule does little to evoke the senses through her writing, something much needed when there are so few surviving pictures or photographs.
Overall, if you are looking for an introduction to this area, I think it is a worthy purchase and a springboard to finding other books that go into depth on key areas you find interesting.