The Chinaman's Bastard by Amanda Taylor

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The Chinaman's Bastard by Amanda Taylor

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: Steeped in Victorian England, this story concentrates on one young man called Daniel who gives the book its title. He's caught up in an extremely serious situation involving a young girl but all relevant facts seem enveloped in a sea of mist; not unlike the book's coastal location.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 393 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Vanguard Press
ISBN: 978-1843865445

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I found the title of the book excellent and I was keen to find out more. The blurb on the back cover does its job - until the last bit, which becomes a bit irritating. It claims the book is very captivating. Well, to be brutally honest, it's either captivating or it's not. The word 'very' is not needed. And sadly, no, I didn't find the book captivating at all.

The reader is introduced to the fishing community in and around the Whitby area. As you'd expect, the work is hard and often dangerous. The men on the whole are illiterate; scraping a living from the sea and their womenfolk share the hardship. Taylor describes, again and again, the bleakness of the area (I got the picture) and when conversations are in the rather terse, abrupt fashion and in the local dialect to boot, well, the reader gets a double dose of the book's atmosphere. Doom and gloom. The community is tight, looks in on itself and doesn't really welcome strangers.

Enter James Cairn, a well-spoken barrister from out-of-town. His hobby - fossil collecting - sees him travel from his place of work in posh York to the coast. Chapter two opens with the line It was two days after Oscar Wilde walked out of Pentonville Prison which is creatively effective in letting the reader know the time-frame of the book. I liked that. And as Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations gather pace up and down the country, the central character, Daniel discovers something/someone which changes his life. But is it for the better? Basically, Daniel is a man in a child's mindset. Some would say this can be unhealthy, awkward, even dangerous. The unforgiving North Sea has already claimed several members of his family so it's now just Daniel and his mam. The locals are not overly fond of stupid, dull Daniel. He's a bloody nuisance really. Several passages in the book make clear the locals distaste for him.

The beginning of the book jumps back and forth and weaves in between several characters' stories. Even by page 50 or so I hadn't really properly engaged with any of the characters, so the rather see-saw start didn't help matters. I would describe Taylor's style as poetic-esque - to a maddening degree. Her constant and sometimes unnecessary adjectives and adverbs slowed up the narrative (not that there was much to start with). I didn't warm to her style at all. It was as if she was trying too hard and it didn't work.

The plot develops and we see the barrister's and also Daniel's paths crossing and intertwining to a certain extent. But I could almost see the joins in the story. Rather unconvincing in parts. I also felt that the whole middle section was meandering to a large extent and didn't contribute a great deal. The book could be halved in content and would then make, in my opinion, for a sharper, stronger story. But as it is, it's all rather gloomy and miserable in feel, I'm afraid to say. No feel-good factor here.

I took issue with too many areas of this book therefore the enjoyment was low. I'm going to finish on the back cover blurb - again. It states ... with the author having paid attention to every detail ... err, isn't that an author's job? A disjointed, gloomy book which I found overly long.

I'd like to thank the author for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy The Case Book of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd.

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The author said:

Dear Louise,

Thank you for reviewing my book The Chinaman’s Bastard so comprehensively.

I think you got off to a bad start. I absolutely agree with you that the back cover blurb isn’t all it should be and the ‘very’ with captivating along with a second ‘very’ in the same paragraph is unforgivable. However, the blurb was written by the publishing house and although I asked them to correct it, it seems once the print run was underway this would prove too costly to rectify.

I am afraid life was hard and grim in Victorian Staithes – every Staithes family during that period lost a man to the sea – and I wasn’t going to pretend that this fishing community was wonderland.

I agree we all need humour to get by and I am sorry ‘Taylors’ courtroom humour failed to hit the mark with Ms Laurie.

Amanda Taylor