The Quick by Lauren Owen
Shelf worth: 3.5/5
Much like the wonderful Captain America: The Winter Soldier (run, don't walk, to your nearest cinematic outlet), I knew very little about The Quick before diving in and I recommend you do the same (for both).
I knew I liked the cover. I am easily pleased and enjoy a sexy typeface. I knew that we meet the The Aegolius Club, one of the most exclusive clubs in London. I knew that the book opens in Victorian-era Yorkshire, in a vast, unloved house where Charlotte and her young brother James await either the return of their father from who knows where, or a mysterious governess.
To fill in the time, and to make themselves brave, the children practise 'ordeals'. Walking across a terrifying landing at night, in the dark; or the worst: standing in the library's secret priest hole with the door shut and no way of getting out unless someone helps you. Creepy, right? Yes, but not in a Turning of The Screw way. Years later, James moves to London to try and make a go of it as a poet of doleful bent - all that Gothic upbringing has an effect - while Charlotte stays in Yorkshire under the auspices of their not-quite governess.
AND THEN STUFF HAPPENS.
Oh yes, that's very helpful. I realise this. But let's be honest, you don't want me to tell you the whole plot because Lauren Owen, a Victorian Literature MA and current Gothic writing PhD if you please, has put in quite a healthy amount of it.
The first childhood chapters absolutely blew me away. It's some of the most convincing, witty and assured writing I've been lucky enough to read in ages. Hot on the heels of Nickolas Butler and his epic Shotgun Love Songs, Owen is another disgustingly talented debut novelist - 2014 has been hailed as a vintage year for first books - and has the added audacity to write this well at only 28.
I kept pausing to savour particular lines, which sounds unbearably smug, but is simply the effect of an author who can take sentences, twist them inside out and suddenly have something utterly wonderful to the eye and ear. In London, James shares rooms with a society hellraiser, Christopher Paige, who has some of the book's most dazzling lines. But it's Charlotte, as a child and writing marvellously droll letters to James, who leaps off the page and makes me want to take her out gallivanting.
Once you get into it, it's a gripping read, although disappointingly Owen's sparkling prose dims to a simmer - albeit a very strong, convincing simmer - once the action gets underway and there isn't as much time to dance around with language.
I've recommended this, and given my copy, to a bunch of friends who I know will enjoy a great Gothic thriller, but certainly the opening chapters are written to a level that is almost ridiculously high. It settles into a solid, well-plotted novel, but certainly left me itching for some more of that wonderful phrasing. Make no mistake about it though: Lauren Owens is a ridiculously strong talent and I for once can't wait to see what she does next.