I’ve started reading Death and Mr Pickwick, which I’d heard about from the author himself (Stephen Jarvis) some months ago. It’s 800 pages long or so, and it’s proving to be an absorbing but odd novel; novel may not be its best description. It’s like a bunch of stories, handfuls of them, many of them based on fact and then dramatised. It also delves into the underbelly of the Victorian world, where there are many things that Dickens never wrote about ˗ thankfully ˗ or wasn’t able to be because of the climate of the time. Homosexuality seems to be a bit of a theme, though it’s hard to know quite why this is so important; so far, at least.
Jarvis has a great skill in being able to evoke the world of the people involved, but by ranging so far and wide it becomes harder to keep track of everyone. It helps if you know more about Dickens than the average person, perhaps, and some of the names are familiar, but quite what their connection is to the main story, and to Dickens and Pickwick, is a bit vague. Grimaldi, the great clown, gets a lot of space early in the book, as does his equally famous but very short-lived son, who, according to this book, never got over having to live in his father’s shadow.
There is a story lurking around in the middle of all the stuff, but at the moment it’s like dozens of strands are being drawn together very slowly; you can see why one critic wasn't sure of it as a novel. It’s more like an immense collage, with a kind of overarching theme (who really created Pickwick?, I suppose).
However, it has the admirable quality of being very readable. So onward and onward. I'm only 17% of the way through so far, according to Kindle, so I have a ways to go, as they say. (I'm also wading slowly through Christina Lamb's Farewell Kabul - which runs to 600 pages or so. Must be the year for long books.)