Sunday, 5 August 2012

The London Satyr - Robert Edric

On the face of it, a novel about Victorian pornographers; in reality a carefully crafted, utterly non-salacious novel about the compromises we have to make in life and how, so often, the battle to get ahead and perhaps even escape ends up sucking us deeper into the mire, achoring us ever more firmly to our rung on society's descending scale.

Webster is a middling professional photographer, not good enough to survive as an independent but just about good enough to take photos of the costumes in Henry Irving's productions at the Lyceum so that Irving's manager, Bram 'Mother' Stoker, can add them to his obsessive lists and inventories.

Webster has accidentally hit upon a way of earning a few bob on the side.  He lends the costumes to the pornographer Marlow, who has a lucrative line in photos of women getting out of said clothing.  Webster takes a shine to Marlow's partner Pearl and, one lucky night, finds himself invited to an evening of tableaux vivantes at Marlow's place.

Webster is a man of modest ambitions: he doesn't want to leave his frigid wife and appalling (but highly entertaining) daughter, he just wants to build himself up in their regard.  He wouldn't in theory mind getting up close and personal with the enigmatic Pearl but in practice can't even bring himself to have it away with the young skivvy who offers him anything he fancies on the proverbial plate.

Then a debased artisto murders a child prostitute.  The London Vigilance Committee launches a crusade (this is after all 1891, only three years on from the Ripper's Autumn of Terror), and Webster realises just how deeply he has been drawn in to the sex business.  Worse, Stoker announces a complete stock-take and Marlow, who has several of the items Stoker wants to find, has fled abroad.

Incredibly entertaining, finely judged in terms of its moral standpoint, and beautifully written.  Why isn't Edric better known?  He has won and been shortlisted for most of the major prizes but I'd never come across him before.  My tip: get to know his considerable ouevre forthwith.

No comments:

Post a Comment