My May choice for ‘The Year in Books’, The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman, was a hefty tome indeed – 450 action-packed pages charting the tale of an 18th-century woman who grows up in a brothel and becomes a prize fighter.
In all honesty, it took me much longer to read than I thought it would: some of the characters’ back stories were dragged out a little too much, and various events were told from several people’s perspectives without this really adding much to my understanding of their motivations. But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book; although it didn’t grip me from the first page, I eventually found myself drawn into the lives of some very well-rounded and believable protagonists. I also appreciated the refreshingly unflinching portrayal of the grittier aspects of 18th-century life, including brutal accounts of fights, smallpox and prostitution. It was uncomfortable to read in places, but I felt I was getting an accurate representation of the time.
Like all my other reads for ‘The Year in Books’, The Fair Fight is set in Bristol, and there were plenty of evocative descriptions of the city; it seemed almost like another character in the story, and many of the locations – the Hatchett Inn, the Hole in the Wall pub, St Michael’s Hill, Queen Square – are places familiar to me in 2015. I particularly liked the references to ‘the stink of the docks and the slow brown river’ and the ‘congested waters of the industrial quays’, as they show how times have changed. Reading those words, I could just imagine raucous sailors, busy warehouses and a jumble of masts lining the Harbourside where smart bars and restaurants now stand.
I’m staying in Georgian Bristol with my June pick – The Devil’s Mask by Christopher Wakling. Although it covers roughly the same period in time, I’m expecting different things altogether from this novel, which is billed as a historical thriller set in the aftermath of the abolition of the slave trade. I’ll let you know how I get on at the beginning of July…
‘The Year in Books’ is a monthly blog series run by Laura of Circle of Pine Trees; there’s also a regular Twitter chat where everyone can share recommendations. Just head over to the information page to find out more about taking part.