London, 1859. By the time Dora Damage discovers that her husband Peter has arthritis in his hands, it is too late - their book-binding business is in huge debt and the family is on the brink of entering the poorhouse.
But Dora proves that she is more than just a housewife and mother.
She resolves to rescue her family at any price and finds herself irrevocably entangled in a web of sex, money, deceit and the law.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 464 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
- Publication Date: 04/08/2008
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780747593256
Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.
Review by Staramber
I’ve got to say I don’t quite know about this one. Immediately I was turned off by the tone. There was something not quite right about it, almost if it were trying to sound too Victorian. The comparisons with Dickens where in the worst possible sense, his blunt, forceful moralising creeps up instead of letting the reader get their own impression of the situation. While the novel comes across as well researched it’s more to do with the facts crammed, often irrelevantly, in to each sentence.The character of Dora too comes across as slightly too twee, her daughter Lucinda even more so. As I got to the end of the story and read through the fictional epilogue, the ‘look how it was in real life’ afterword, and the note on the author I was wondering when I’d get to the back page. Nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The team of misfits assembled - the working woman, the black man, the gay chap, the rape victim and the fallen socialite - were lovable despite their cliché. The story was slightly predictable but compelling all the same. I still don’t know if I loved this book or not, but it is well worth the read.
Review by Kasthu
Dora Damage is the wife of a lesser-known bookbinder in Ivy-street in London. Her husband suffers from rheumatism, and her daughter has epilepsy, also known as the Falling Sickness. When Peter Damage becomes to sick to continue with his work, Dora finds herself taking over the business, and she takes on a client who wants her to bind copies of salacious literature. Dora becomes acquainted with the client’s wife, who enlists Dora’s help in finding a job at the bindery for an American slave named Din.I was on the fence about this book. On one hand, I love the atmospheric setting; London in the 1850s and ‘60s is a great place to escape to when reading historical fiction. And although the characters are well-defined, that’s not necessarily a good thing; some of the characters descend into being stereotypes (the silly, empty-headed noblewoman, the cardboard cutout villain, or the fallen woman-turned maid-of-all-work). The dialogue of the African-Americans didn’t ring true, either. The plot of the book requires the reader to suspend their sense of disbelief, too (one example is the character of Sylvia, who seemed to drop her old life in Berkeley Square at an astonishing speed, later taking on lovers with blatant disregard for what might happen). I thought the author cheapened the book a bit by including the romance part. And I could see the ending coming from a mile away. But the book’s strength is recreating a time period that’s long-gone; Victorian London is described in painstaking detail. I also enjoyed Starling’s descriptions of the art of bookbinding.
Review by Jstefanlari
Not half bad for a first novel and, as it happens, alos the (late) author's definitive last, although it does start to get a bit like a fruit cake with too much going on and I could ave done without the romance. The ending is a wee bit disappointing too. Worth reading until three quarters of the way through.
Review by joyfulgirl
I have been wanting to read this since I saw a review for it when it was first published. It just seemed to grab me.I really enjoyed this book - what a fabulous first novel (and unfortunately last) from the late Belinda Starling, who passed away not long after she finished this. Her vivid imagery envokes the sights, sounds and smells of 19th Century London, and entices the reader to persue the (almost) lost art of book bindery.
Review by CatyM
Historical Fiction. When Dora's husband's illness reduces the family to penury, Dora takes over his bookbinding business, little suspecting that this move will bring her into contact with the seamy underbelly of Victorian London. Very atmospheric, but sometimes a little rudderless, which is perhaps not surprising given the number of themes it includes: Victorian medicine, social conditions, the role of women, race, slavery and pornography are all jostling with the minutiae of bookbinding for space. 3½ out of 5, with the caveat that it's definitely not for the squeamish.