Tom-All-Alone's - Lynn Shepherd
Is it "fanfic" or the more grecolatinate "intertextuality"? It's clever, anyway. I guess I just didn't find it clever enough to justify its lack of other qualities. It's fannish in that it relies on either recent or repeated reading of Bleak House to find all the shout-outs, and the audience may well congratulate themselves on spotting them (and the ones to other novels and to well-known historical figures). It's geeky in that there is an afterword that explains all that. (I don't think that the author was well-advised, though, in directly co-opting some canon characters and then creating others that are extremely like canon characters but not the same ones, at the same time the original story is going on in the background: there's an unavoidable sensation that London is populated by doppelgangers unaware of each other!) And this novel is intended to be "darker and edgier" than Dickens; but, in spite of the fact that it can talk at length about prostitution and incest, and can include the words "rape", "buggery", and "pregnant", it really isn't grimmer than Dickens's depictions of crushing poverty, in my opinion. And it does oddly little to correct one of the Victorian author's greatest failings, the lack of a middle ground, in his female characters, between comic monsters and "the angel of the house". There are plenty of victims in Tom-All-Alone's, but no fully-developed women with agency. No sooner is a potentially interesting woman introduced, than she either is killed or vanishes from the story -- particularly striking in the case of the protagonist's putative love-interest, who remains shadowy and wholly objectified seen through his eyes, and is apparently forgotten by the author after the plot has advanced far enough that she ends up in his bed. And twenty-first-century myopia probably explains the author's tendency to confuse innocence with imbecility: the girls at the Solitary House, especially Hester (cf. Esther), parody angelic good girls but they are quite literally feeble-minded, and are contrasted with street-smart prostitutes -- no nuanced depictions of sheltered existences here, a lack of trying for real empathy with Victorian girls. The attempt at a "god's-eye narrative" lurches uncomfortably every time the author inserts a comment from modern perspective, and falls far, far short of its goal of matching Dickens's finely-honed moral outrage.