Gothic Novels: The Quick

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

When I read the description of Lauren Owen’s novel The Quick, I was sold on it. I couldn’t want to dive into this one.

I think I would do you a disservice if I described this book in my own words so, from the inside cover:

London, 1892: James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford, finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat. Through this new friendship, he is introduced to the drawing rooms of high society and finds love in an unexpected quarter. Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace. Unnerved, his sister, Charlotte sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him. In the sinister, labyrinthine city that greets her, she uncovers a secret world at the margin, populated by unforgettable characters, including a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret and the chilling “Doctor Knife.” But the answer to her brother’s disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of one of the country’s preeminent and mysterious institutions: The Aegolius Club, whose members include the most ambitious, and most dangerous men in England. 

The Quick

Firstly, this book is beautiful. The cover design is exquisite and thoughtful and the feel of the dust jacket?!? Velvety – it’s the same texture I chose for my wedding invites for the express purpose of evoking the cover of a book. And when this book sits on your shelf, it’s spine is designed to look like an old leather bound book. I’m a sucker for great book covers.

In order to get to enjoy the full experience of The Quick, you can’t know too much about what it’s about. I thought I was in for a magical Gothic tale – something like The Shadow of the Wind; I thought we were going to spend some time in the seedy underbelly of London at the turn of the last century. And I kind of did, sometimes. But we spent far more time in the fancy drawing rooms of the elite. I’m not complaining – I enjoyed that setting too.

One of the unexpected things about this novel is the amount of viewpoints. Owen jumps around between third and first person perspectives, diary style and straight story telling. At first I wasn’t sure how to feel about this  – was it disjointed? Distracting? Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on it, I can honestly say it’s not. I appreciated the different character narratives – it offered a really layered story. Owen’s talent lies in the fact that she was able to bring all those narratives together again to finish the story completely. I adore a good ending – I’m one of those readers that can forgive nearly all story flaws if I get a great ending. The Quick has an exquisite, delicious, thrilling ending. I got goosebumps, it was so good.

I found that I was holding my breath through a lot of the story. The characters are all so unsavoury, there is so much cloak and dagger stuff with the club and the people that are a part of it. So convincing was the idea of The Aegolius Club that I actually had to look it up to see if such a thing had in fact existed. That was before I got to the part where Owen explained what the deal was with The Aegolius Club. Somehow Owen has managed to create a completely believable world based on total fantasy.

There are many opportunities for goosebumps in this book. I enjoyed the ride, and as I mentioned, the ending was a delight. I’m curious as to what Owen’s follow up book will be.