Roll up, roll up, suspend belief, prepare to be entertained. Things In Jars reads like an old fashioned circus. Whilst it wouldn't make my 'All time favourite reads list' I liked it, but my book club girls didn’t. One comment was “too much unnecessary prose, and repetition” there probably was a bit but I didn't feel the need to skip any of it; and most of them didn’t like the content, yes some of it is grim. Victorian London was grim, awash with violence, crime, disease, stink, penury, and dead bodies. Bodies appeared almost hourly, in doorways with their throats cut or heads caved in. Half-burnt in hearths, garroted in garrets, folded into trunks or bobbing about in the Thames, great bloated shoals of them. And the installation of a world class sewer system only added to the mire as bodies were unearthed. Kidd describes Victorian London perfectly. I thought one aerial description as seen through the eyes of a raven was particularly potent:
Breathe in—but not too deeply. Follow the fulsome fumes from the tanners and the reek from
the brewery, butterscotch rotten, drifting across Seven Dials. Keep on past the mothballs and
the cheap tailor’s and turn left at the singed silk of the maddened hatter. Just beyond, you’ll
detect the unwashed crotch of the overworked prostitute and the Christian sweat of the
charwoman. On every inhale a shifting scale of onions and scalded milk, chrysanthemums
and spiced apple, broiled meat and wet straw, and the sudden stench of the Thames as the
wind changes direction and blows up the knotted backstreets. Above all, you may notice
the rich and sickening chorus of shit.
Medicine was making great headway into understanding anesthesia and medical and surgical procedures, and to advance their understanding doctors and surgeons studied dead bodies, some obtained legally, but many nefariously. And then there were the collectors, the arrogant, ruthless, amoral gentry collectors, hungry for the unusual, abnormal, remarkable - Things in Jars. And a little girl named Christobel.