“Derby Day”

September 1, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Posted in Fiction | 1 Comment

This is my fourth Booker read, and I’m feeling smug now that I took the trouble to order it from Amazon UK.  D.J. Taylor knows what he is about, and Derby Day shows it.

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What is it about horse racing, exactly?  Last year’s National Book Award went to Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule.  Perhaps the next trend in high literary fiction will be dog shows?  Regardless, Lord of Misrule was so densely poetic that it could take real exertion to make it through a paragraph.  Derby Day is, well, a horse of a different color.

Intricately plotted and with a large cast of characters, Derby Day sweeps us up and makes us feel we have always known everything about Victorian England, the race track included.  Taylor keeps every thread in hand, tangled as it might be, and presents them in a neat bow at the end.  His acerbic wit is complemented by a certain sympathy for his characters, most of whom do not fall neatly into clear categories of good or bad.  The book is subtitled: A Victorian Mystery, and while it does indeed have elements of mystery to it, we discover that they do not lie where we would expect.

I really enjoyed this book and I think it has commercial appeal, which, to be honest, many long listed books don’t.  I will refrain from guessing yet whether it will make the short list, though.


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