Inspector Bucket and the Beast

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A tremendously entertaining read, this page-turning novel from a bright new crime fiction talent is impossible to put down. A truly wonderful crime novel by a brilliant writer… Judith Flanders has found that difficult, magical ground between humour and crime, where the death is never trivialized, but the territory is hysterically pilloried. The nineteenth century was a time of unprecedented change, and nowhere was this more apparent than London. In only a few decades, the capital grew from a compact Regency town into a sprawling metropolis of 6.

Technology—railways, street-lighting, and sewers—transformed both the city and the experience of city-living, as London expanded in every direction. From the colorful cries of street-sellers to the uncomfortable reality of travel by omnibus, to the many uses for the body parts of dead horses and the unimaginably grueling working days of hawker children, no detail is too small, or too strange.

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It is not necessary to be familiar with his novels in order to savor this portrait of the 19th-century metropolis in all its odoriferous particularity—the cress-sellers and the costermongers, the brothels and gin palaces, the scaffolding and slaughterhouses. But for lovers of his books it will confirm, once again, with what accuracy and sincere feeling he wrote. Elizabeth Lowry, Wall Street Journal. Flanders tells the epic story of this biggest and boldest Victorian city in all its complexity, with verve, color and a straightforward approach to language that still manages to give a voice to ordinary Londoners — something Dickens would no doubt approve of.

This is a superb portrait of an exciting, thriving, and dangerous city. A terrific companion while reading Boz himself. This well-researched sociological overview provides highly detailed context for cultural touchstones, while shattering the popular yet inauthentic image of a pristine Victorian age that never existed.

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No other book I know conveys so well the texture of the sprawling, often anarchic metropolis — the sights, sounds and smells. Murder in the nineteenth century was rare. But murder as sensation and entertainment became ubiquitous, with cold-blooded killings transformed into novels, broadsides, ballads, opera, and melodrama—even into puppet shows and performing dog-acts. Certainly, reviewers reached only too easily to the Eastenders association when making their judgements. And the comparisons are there — archetypal location, cliffhanger endings, matriarchs, two-handers, emotionally wrenching storylines, and extraordinary acting when called for.

I watched the Friday February 19th Eastenders episode and watched the penultimate episode of Dickensian straight afterwards. Eastenders was the more gripping. Her moving struggle with herself to admit that she was still not mentally fit enough to fulfil her ideal of good motherhood resonated powerfully with an earlier episode of Dickensian where Honoria Barbary Sophie Rundle gave birth to her apparently stillborn child, aided only by her sister Frances.

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Dickensian has been punctuated by moments of dramatic emotional intensity like this, and the different mores of the Victorian age slide away as our gaze is impelled towards the human predicament. Not that those mores have been neglected.

Certainly the dark elements in Dickens have not been avoided, and sometimes have been given fuller weight than he accorded them. In Great Expectations we see the caricature that she has become, turned to stone by loss, her internal self signalled to us as readers only by the petrification of the accoutrements of her wedding day. It is, yes, still a fictional life; but it feels as though we have been given a glimpse of the history that comes before history.


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That is — if we know our Dickens. But as he intensely studied the ice strewn about the stage while his band played around him, it at least appeared to be part of a tortured performance from someone whose lyrics are famously dark, moody, and depressing. Their albums are best enjoyed in a dimly lit room with a stiff drink as you contemplate the shitty things that have happened in your life. The band itself, however, broods considerably less than their records—the latest included—would suggest. The five members of The National live in different cities and became experts in Google Calendar to help coordinate recording sessions for Sleep Well Beast.

Which is part of why the album took years to materialize. The swims were interrupted by a healthy amount of wine drinking, weed smoking, and communal meals, over which they shared advice. In between songs, members of The National swam in a frog-filled pond near the studio, filling the pond with pool floats—four large pizza slices, an ice cream cone, and a dog bone—and listening to West Coast rap. Levity is a word not usually associated with The National.

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Berninger is the most frequent target. They know two out of three of my ideas are usually good.

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The Dessners, Aaron and Bryce, are largely responsible for writing the initial music, then Berninger writes the lyrics much later in the process, often with help from his wife. Stories for the songs are culled from real life, a slurry of struggles in politics or relationships or marriage.

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