Will Starling

May 21, 2015 § 1 Comment

Other people’s words about … history

Look at him now, striding down Aldersgate Street.

The streets are still choked with crowds from the hanging. Carts clattering, coachmen bellowing, drunken louts lurching amongst the long-suffering respectable, who hold their wives close and their purses closer. Outside a gin-shop some Nymphs of the Pave exchange jeers with a clutch of passing Rainbows — gay young bucks, that is to say, on a roister. Around the corner a half-pay officer trembles one of their sisters against the wall, to the great disgust of all right-thinking passers-by, and the greater delight of a murder of apprentices, who commence pelting the amorous couple with clods of horse-shit. In other words, London is being London, in this year of 1816.

It is a year since Waterloo. Bonaparte is in exile on St Helena, and our Redcoats are back home. Many are missing bits, to be sure: an arm or a leg. Tom Lobster may be seen hopping himself along any street in London, or sitting on the corner, cap in hand, such being the fortune of war … But there is a new energy surging through the Metropolis, after a lean and anxious decade. A sense that much may be possible again — and very little may be forbidden. The topsy-turvy feeling that something has utterly fallen apart, though you can’t be sure what it is, and that something throbbing and burgeoning has begun. There is a mood of seeking and striving and seizing, and Atherton is at one with the Spirit of his Age. He glistens with it.

From Will Starling: a novel
By Ian Weir

London: 1816. Will Starling, an orphan foundling shorter than five foot, works for a military surgeon. The Doomsday Men — grave robbers who bring cadavers to London’s surgeons for dissection — are busy in the Resurrectionist trade.

Can you bring someone back from death? That’s what the surgeons yearn to know.

I loved this book. It was a riotous tumble of a story. I read and read and read, and closed the book afterwards, disappointed to be resurfacing into the real world.

That’s the art of good fiction, don’t you think? To make the real world seem somehow pale …

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