I can’t imagine a single writer who wouldn’t be delighted at the sort of review Miles has given Tom-All-Alone’s, but I was particularly pleased at what he said about my description of Maddox’s illness. The old man is suffering from what we immediately recognise as Alzheimer’s disease, though of course his contemporaries would never have heard of such a condition, and it would not be properly recognised and diagnosed until the early 1900s. The reason Miles’ observation struck me so much is that it picks up on one of the biggest challenges – and greatest joys – I had in writing the book.

Tom All Alone's

Tom All Alone's

The narrator of Tom-All-Alone’s takes up the same stance in relation to the story as Charles Dickens does himself in Bleak House: I talk to my readers directly, just as Dickens does. We both make comments about what’s going on in our own narratives, but while Dickens often uses this technique to point out social injustice to his readers, or rail against the pitiful state of the London poor, my own use of it is rather different. The key contrast between us, of course, is that Dickens is talking about 19th century London to a 19th century audience, while my own readers have the benefit of nearly 200 years of hindsight. And while many of Dickens’ middle-class readers would have had very little notion of the brutal reality of the contemporary city, my own readers are under no such illusions.

Dickens, of course, was even more aware of what was really going on about him than we can possibly be. He walked the London streets all his life, often by night, and was active in the management of a home for so-called fallen women. So he knew all about prostitution, he knew all about crime and disease, he knew exactly how close most of the street-sellers were to ‘starving poor’. Some of these things he could write about; others he could only hint at. But now we can look the truth of Victorian London squarely in the face. And that’s exactly what I’ve tried to do in Tom-All-Alone’s.

Tom-All-Alone’s looks at Dickens’ London through 21st century eyes. All its filth, all its degradation, and all its hypocrisy. I show my readers these things, and I can talk to them about them too, because my readers and I share a level of knowledge that my characters cannot possibly have. We know what really ails old Maddox, even if his great-nephew does not; we know how serial killers operate, though the term – even the very idea – would have meant nothing to an officer of the Metropolitan Police in 1850. But such murderers still existed all the same, preying upon their helpless victims under the cover of the fog and the shadows. A fact young Charles Maddox will soon discover, and at a perilous cost….

The Solitary House will be published in the US by Random House on the 1st of May, 2012.

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1 Response » to “Seeing Victorian London through 21st century eyes”

  1. […] piece on for http://www.milorambles.com on Victorian London http://www.milorambles.com/2012/02/01/seeing-victorian-london-through-21st-century-eyes/My interview for What the Dickens magazine (starts on page 6) http://wtd-magazine.com/My piece on […]

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