I've just been reading a Victorian triple-decker novel. Heck no, I've been reading a five-decker. All however is not as it seems, for my "typical" Victorian novel is actually a pastiche - D.J. Taylor's Kept. Taylor knows his Victorians, he has also written a notable biography of Thackeray. The novel pays tribute to Taylor's influences - Gissing, Dickens, Thackeray (from whose own life the family at the centre of the plot are lifted), and George Eliot. But perhaps the greatest influences, I think are Trollope, Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon.

Trollope, Collins and Braddon always feel to me slightly different from other Victorian writers. They're more to the point, their writing is usually tighter and more plot-driven. You don't have the diversions for no apparent reason that sometimes drive you mad in Dickens, for instance. And in that, although they are in many ways unequivocally Victorian, they point towards the twentieth-century, where shorter snappier writing, and novels, would become the norm.

In this aspect Taylor moves away from pastiche, but otherwise he generally stays faithful to the period he's writing in (a few anomalies placed deliberately will disconcert the reader reminding them that they are NOT reading the Victorian novel that they may think they are).

So what sort of a novel is Kept? It's basically a very clever crime novel, with nods to The moonstone and The woman in white. When a bullion robbery gets the Metropolitan Police running round in circles, Captain McTurk realises that several different crimes are linked including a major financial swindle, and the mysterious disappearance of the widow of a murdered man. As McTurk starts to pull the strings together, the threads of the novel also pull together.

I think Taylor writes in this style brilliantly. He almost convinces. And this manages to be both a great read for crime aficionados, and fun for anyone who loves classic English literature. You'll have a great time working out who that reference is to, and didn't that happen somewhere else? Some of his manipulations of earlier Victorian scenes are also gloriously funny. Will it just be me, or will other readers wonder about the possibility of a wolf roaming around The small house at Allington?

I thoroughly enjoyed this, Kept kept me hooked from beginning to end. How could you not love it?


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