Monday, 9 January 2012

Review: Velvet by Mary Hooper

Velvet is a laundress in a Victorian steam laundry. With both her mother and father dead, she is an orphan and has to rely upon her own wits to make a living. The laundry is scalding, back-breaking work and Velvet is desperate to create a better life for herself. Then Velvet is noticed by Madame Savoya, a famed medium, who asks Velvet to come to work for her. Velvet is dazzled at first by the young yet beautifully dressed and bejewelled Madame. But soon Velvet realises that Madame Savoya is not all that she says she is, and Velvet's very life is in danger... 

There was nothing bad about this book, great writing, fantastic research that really set you down right in the middle of the period, and believable and well-constructed characters – yet it didn’t really do it for me. I’m not sure if it was just that I wasn’t fussed on the storyline, the idea of scamming vulnerable people out of their money is always enough to set my teeth on edge.
Or maybe it was just that I never particularly warmed to Velvet. I wanted to shake her for being so naïve, yet at the same time if she hadn’t been so naïve she wouldn’t have been as believable. Catch 22.
So yeah, not a favourite for me, but still a well written, engaging and driven book.

As I said before, the research is really well done, and allows you to feel that you’ve really entered the 1900’s, right down to the gritty, darker, nastier side. This is always a bonus in a books favour when the research is so good that you really feel and experience it as Velvet would have done.

The writing is brilliant, just the right tone and style for the lower class working girl who rises above her station. I would have liked a bit more about Velvet, about how she reacted to it, little moments that really would have made it seem even more believable. As it was I felt like we just skimmed the surface of her mind which meant I wasn’t as attached to her as I otherwise might have been.

Again we have a case of insta-love, but with a twist! I did occasionally want to shake Velvet for her naivety, but as I’ve said, if she hadn’t been so naïve then she wouldn’t have made successful and believable character of the period.

I did find the breaks where we got to see what happened in some of Madame’s private sessions a bit hit and miss. Whilst I understood why they were there – they provided some much needed insight into Madame’s character, I found they broke up the story quite a lot and really dragged it when the pace could have been higher.

It does provide a really interesting insight into the way mysticism and spirits took hold of the Victorian’s and shook them for all they were worth. I loved seeing all the different mediums and the séances, and the reactions of others at hearing their loved ones speak again. It was fascinating, but at the same 
time horrifying to see how easily manipulated these people were.

It also showed a lot of other aspects of day to day life at the time that aren’t necessarily touched on. It’s normally a lot more of the pretty elegant aspects that we get to read about, so some of the horrifying parts about the workhouse and the baby farms were grisly to read, but fascinating in context.

So all in all, if you like some psychics, ghosts, mysteries, and Victorian’s all mixed up into one book, this is the book for you!

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