Friday, 10 February 2012

The Perfect Cure for Dickens Fatigue

So far, 2012 has been a big year for fans of Charles Dickens. Barely six weeks into the great author’s bicentennial year and we have already been treated to a dizzying array of TV and radio adaptations of his works, not to mention innumerable newspaper and magazine articles analyzing everything from his characters and plots to his enduring influence in our 21st century world.

In fact, so saturated has the media become with all things Dickensian, you would, dear reader, be forgiven for feeling just a little bit tired of it all. (Personally, I’m expecting the phrase ‘Dickens fatigue’ to enter the OED any day now.)

But, before you take the rash step of swearing off Charles-bloody-Dickens for the sake of your mental health, I urge you to pick up a copy of Lynn Shepherd’s wonderful new book, Tom-All-Alone’s – because if you are indeed suffering from this particular literary malaise, Tom-All-Alone’s provides the perfect antidote by breathing new life into one of Dickens' most famous novels.

Set in 1850, Tom-All-Alone’s is a Victorian murder mystery which cleverly uses many of the characters and locations from the classic Bleak House and weaves them into an entirely new, but equally compelling, story. However, unlike Bleak House, Tom-All-Alone’s is narrated by a 21st century observer – a device which allows the author to expose many of the darker realities of Victorian London, realities Dickens could only hint at or, indeed, ignore altogether.

And Lynn Shepherd certainly doesn’t shy away from the task in hand. She is unflinching in her re-creation of the seedy, squalid and the downright disgusting underbelly of mid-19th century London. Nothing is off limits in this book, whether it be child prostitution, gruesome Ripper-style murders, or nauseating descriptions of the goings-on in the infamous Bermondsey tanneries. However, all this only serves to bring the slums of Victorian London authentically and vividly to life, and the reader is left under no illusions as to what life was really like for many Londoners forced to eek out an existence in such wretched conditions.

Charles Dickens
If you are not familiar with Bleak House, fear not –a prior knowledge of the Dickens masterpiece is certainly not a prerequisite for the enjoyment of this book. In fact, with its intricately-woven plot, meticulously researched historical detail and wonderful writing, Tom-All-Alone’s doesn’t need the Dickens connection to make this a thoroughly good book – as a stand-alone story, it will appeal to anyone who enjoys a classic Victorian murder mystery.

A must-read!

Tom-All-Alone's by Lynn Shepherd is published in the UK by Corsair.  It will be released in the US under the title The Solitary House on May 1st.  For more information, including a great video introduction by the author, go to

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