No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

#47: My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time -- Liz Jensen

A time-travel romance as sugar-dusted as the heroine's favourite Danish confections, with a caper stolen straight from generic Scooby Doo and a stock cast -- the tart with a heart, the adorable orphan, the mad professor, the dashing archaeologist -- this is fun and frivolous and a headlong read.

I'm not sure it works as science fiction; the science is just a little too flaky and improbable. But it's an effective fantasy, and maybe (as one Proper Printed Review suggests) it does border on magic realism.

Charlotte is a good-natured prostitute in Copenhagen in the last years of the nineteenth century. Beset by an elderly dependent, Fru Schleswig (whom Charlotte is at pains to stress is not her mother, she finds honest employment at the house of Fru Krak, who's due to be married to a Pastor and who wants the house cleaned top to bottom.

Charlotte discovers from her friends Else (now a florist) and Gudrun (a laundress, dreadfully scarred by something that befell her in the basement of Fru Krak's Gothic mansion) that all is not as it seems. Fru Krak's husband, the Professor, went missing -- as did many others, never to be seen again -- and the secret to his disappearance lies in the cellar.

Accidentally propelled through space and time to Greenwich, just after the millennium (the green laser-beam is still operational, which it wasn't last time I was there), Charlotte -- pausing only to discover Google and the joys of online shopping -- finds herself the Forlorn Hope of a group of Danish refugees. And finds herself falling head over heels in love ...

It's first-person all the way through, in the gossipy and affectionate voice of Charlotte, whose journal is one long letter to her beloved reader (though I'm not sure that reader's ever identified). One nice stylistic touch was the use of '&', rather than 'and'. And of course all the stylistic eccentricities, the constant changes of tense, can be put down to Charlotte's ebullience and her excellent but hard-won grasp of the English language. Though for a woman who staves off boredom by reading dictionaries, I expected better than this:
I am saved by a single word, which you can look up in the dictionary, as I have done, under the letter I. You will find it somewhere between 'importune' and 'imposter' ... IMPOTENCE!

Not in my dictionary, love.

Given the title one might've expected more smut (though, in fact, the title is perfectly accurate): there's just enough to make this a saucy spicy naughty-but-nice novel, and Charlotte knows (who better?) that sex is nothing if not amusing. Great fun, and I shall look out for more by Jensen.

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