A brief word here on the Aegolius, which bears the dubious distinction of being the most mysterious club in London. The Aegolius’s character and affairs are kept a profound secret, known only to its initiates. The club’s windows are for ever darkened, one rarely sees members enter or leave the premises, and – strangest of all – there appear to be no club servants to speak of.
This is how The Quick begins although it is some time before we will meet any members of that illustrious club and longer still before we are allowed access to the building. (Those of you far more attuned to these things, however, may already have an inkling as to who, or rather what, these members might be.) Firstly though, we have to meet brother and sister, James and Charlotte. The pair of them live with Mrs Rowley, the housekeeper, in Aiskew Hall, Yorkshire. Their mother is dead and their father often away for long periods. The house is remote, dreary and lonely.
So Charlotte did her best: they would have to be brave, she told James, and she devised ordeals for them to perform – walking down one of the long corridors alone after dark, or keeping one’s head under the bathwater for a minute at a time. Or – this was worst of all – shutting oneself in the priest hole in the library.
Soon their father returns to the hall but only to rest while he shuffles off this mortal coil. The children grow up and James goes firstly to boarding school and then to Oxford while Charlotte remains at the hall. James then decides to go and live in London and attempt to make his living as a writer while Charlotte remains at the hall.
The first part of the novel, whilst covering a number of years in a reasonably short space, unfurls at a steady pace which allows the reader to be lulled into believing that it’ll all turn out fine, particularly for James. The beauty of this section of the novel is how brilliantly plotted and how wonderfully specific the language is in pointing to events that will conclude the novel. Part of its brilliance, of course, is that you won’t be aware of this until you finish the book.
Section two is mostly made up of a notebook written by one Augustus Mould (what a fabulous name). Augustus is an insider in the Aegolius Club although not a member. The special status bestowed on him has allowed him to study and observe several of the club’s members and it is through his diary that we are allowed a clear insight into the club’s workings.
From section three onwards, extracts from the notebook are interspersed with a pacier plot involving James’ need to escape from the Aegolius Club and its members. I shall say no more than this involves some vivid descriptions of London (I can still smell it!); a colourful cast of characters, and twist and turns every few pages.
I raced through The Quick (haha!). I’ve seen a couple of conversations where people preferred the first two sections and others where people thought they were slow; I enjoyed it all and thought the contrast between the sections worked well in terms of the plot. I also thought the ending was one of the best I’ve read so far this year. One to try if you like a gothic narrative with a new angle on a centuries old legend.
Thanks to Jonathan Cape for the review copy.