Book Review: The Great Stink by Clare Clark

16 Aug

Abandoned on page 13….

I was standing at my library’s book sale the other day and a woman pointed to a book and said, “This book is really good.  The title is bad, but the book is good if you like mysteries.”  The title of this book was The Great Stink by Clare Clark.  I’m a sucker for a book recommendation, especially from someone who looked legit.  I mean if she’s read this obscure book, she must have pretty well-read tastes, right?   WRONG!

 As a side-bar, I take issue with the fact that the only 2 words that seem to ever be used to describe books are “good” and “bad”.  I am certainly guilty of this myself, especially when discussing books outside my inner book obsession circle, but I am really trying not to do this because saying a book is “good” doesn’t say anything about it!  Why was it good?  Was it a compelling story, were the characters unique?  Did you identify with them?  Was the story just what you needed at that particular time, was it hard to put down, did it surprise you?  Did it make you angry or sad or scared?  Did you laugh?  I think it’s so important if you did like a book to give it the credit it deserves – “good” just doesn’t cut it, ya know?  But I digress… 

I started this book on Saturday and got through the first chapter. While this might not seem like a huge accomplishment, it truly was.  Eleven pages describing a man in 19th century London walking through an underground sewer with “the stink of excrement pressed into his nostrils” wondering to himself if he cut the sinking fungi from the walls “…would it bleed or would it simply yield the yellowed ooze of a corpse too long in the sun.”  Once he reached some secret hiding place he’d found for himself within the depths of the sewer network (where the “mortar…was as soft as gangrene”), he proceeded to slash his arm, smear the blood over his body and then lick blood from the wound. I’m not squeamish and I’m not prude, but c’mon now. Could we not have cut down just a little on the bodily function descriptions?   But I thought, “Who am I to judge, let’s see what Chapter 2 has in store for me…”

Well I’ll tell you, I got but one page into Chapter 2 when I encountered this little nugget (excuse the pun) describing the condition of the Thames river:  “It grinned its great brown grin, brazen as you like, a great open stream of shit through the very centre of the capital, the knobbles and lumps of rich and poor jostling and rubbing along together, faces turned up to the sky.”

<me slamming book down> I’m done.  I am not faint of heart, but enough is enough.  I am not going to pick through this insanity to find something resembling a plot.  A wise woman once said, “Life is too short to spend it reading books that you don’t like” (or something like that).  This one is being purged from my house immediately.  Can I flush it?

And let’s not forget how I heard about this – Ms. Library Book Sale.  She read the whole book.  And liked it! Enough to recommend it!  If I look at the reviews on Amazon, the general consensus is that if you don’t eat while reading it and can get used to the raw descriptions of the disgustingness that is London in the 1800s it’s actually a pretty good read.  Wouldn’t THAT have been a better description of the book rather than “the title is bad but the book is good” If I had known what to expect, I might have had a higher tolerance and read further.  Or at least I wouldn’t have nearly thrown up my cereal.

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