The Streets by Anthony Quinn

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The Streets by Anthony Quinn

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Set in the slums of London in the 1880s, this is a well researched historical novel with a stories of love and friendship but what is most shocking are the ideas about what was considered acceptable solutions to solving the problems of poverty. Interesting and powerful as well as a great read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 260 Date: June 2013
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099575153

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Anthony Quinn's The Streets is set in London in the early 1880s in the area known as Somers Town, which to those not familiar with London geography is the area around Euston, St Pancras and King's Cross stations. Today, much of this falls under the trendy Camden area, but in the 1880s, was the site of some of the worst slum tenements in the capital. Some 50 years' earlier, Charles Dickens lived in this part of London and although he had died by the time this is set, the depiction of the poverty is not far from what we would term Dickensian. The book is narrated by David Wildeblood, who is a principled but naive young man who finds employment as an 'investigator' for the charismatic Mr Marchmont's The Labouring Classes of London - a strange mix of social geography and journalism publishing regular stories of the poor who reside in the slums of London.

Much like his previous book, the excellent Half of the Human Race, Quinn combines rigorous historical research, particularly featuring major social issues which may have some resonance to today, with a very personal romantic storyline. Here, the issue is the radical ideas about what to do with the poor residents. This was around the time of Darwin, and social engineering was very much the order of the day in political terms. Some of the official ideas, often cloaked under the guise of charity, amounted to little more than class genocide while wealthy landlords of the slums had their own corrupt scams going on to ensure that they took whatever little money the poor did have. Even in the rare cases where people from outside did have good intentions, though not many, what was often forgotten was that the residents didn't want charity - they wanted justice and the chance to help themselves.

Part of the success of the book is the character of Wildeblood. His outsider qualities and his naive nature allow him to detail the horrors of the slums afresh. He is introduced to the local back slang and language - where things are either 'doogheno' or 'dabheno' (good or bad). There is a slight tendency to perhaps romanticize the plight of the poor who are, for the most part, salt of the earth types while the powerful rich are correspondingly evil, and the plucky journalists expose each world, but this nevertheless makes for a good story. As in previous books, Quinn does a good line in fine, principled women suffering the weaknesses of bumbling male admirers.

The one weakness of this set up is that at times the personal story seems to take precedence over some of the intricacies of the schemes that the rich had going, and some of these are not particularly well explained, but the plans, which I'm sure have some historical evidence, are truly shocking. As indeed was the plight of the poor and the conditions in which they lived.

Most of all though, Quinn continues to be an expert story teller. David soon finds himself in danger and it is far from clear how things are going to play out until the final pages. It isn't quite the remarkable book that Half the Human Race was, but it's still very good indeed. Or doogheno should I say?

Our grateful thanks to the kind people at Vintage for sending us this book.

For more poignant historical fiction, check out Worthless Men by Andrew Cowan, while for more historical fiction on the industrial revolution that was the cause of much of the poverty The Potter's Hand by A N Wilson is an excellent book.

Buy The Streets by Anthony Quinn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Streets by Anthony Quinn at

Buy The Streets by Anthony Quinn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Streets by Anthony Quinn at


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