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Thursday Quotables – The Almanack

THE ALMANACK (Martine Bailey) An engaging murder mystery set in 1700s England countryside, with a very strong historical setting

The chancel admitted only a trickle of light through its narrow windows, and Tabitha’s footsteps sounded hesitant on the stone flags. Only as she approached the church tower did the sound of the new clock’s mechanism reach her, a ceaseless thunk and tick. A new innovation, installed since her departure from Netherlea, the clock and bells were operated by gigantic chains and weights; and a copper pendulum the size of a frying pan swung back and forth along the whitewashed wall. She stood a while, watching it, with that peculiar sense of observing time. With each movement her life was passing and she was growing minutely older – further from birth and closer to death.

Un like Nat, she thought of time as like a ribbon unspooling; the present moment was the only inch of the stuff you could grasp as it cascaded past you, framed by the diamond buckle of now. Life, in the moment of happening, was radiant with every colour at once, like a rainbow woven of thread, but once the moment had passed, it was nothing but grubby silk abandoned on the ground. All its freshness and luster was spoiled and used up; her own folly, her poor choices, had ruined so many bright possibilities. And now her past lay in a sordid tangle at her feet.

As for the future, she had no ready picture of that at all. It was unknown, even frightening. That was why people sought out predictions of love, health, and good fortune; Nat thought there were choices to be made, but she was not so sure. She had once heard a sermon on the subject of God the Watchmaker, and how the world and its inhabitants were nothing but tiny cogs in a vast sphere of clockwork. Even as a child, that had sounded to her like a cold metal trap. Or was it the stars, perhaps, that wrote her fate? Well, even Nat knew no more of their future than her, for all his philosophizing. No, the future was a dark place and her ribbon a fragile thread in a labyrinth by which she groped forwards.

Thursday Quotables Meme

On the whole, I really like this book. It’s the first time that I read a novel set in the 1700s. It isn’t a time which is much frequented by modern storytellers, especially of murder mysteries. One might also think the 1700s countryside is no place for convincing murders, but this story proves this is not the case.

The setting is actually very intriguing. Tabitha, the main character, was born in Netherlea, but she lived for a long spell in London and aches to go back. Life in the countryside feels a century old and stale to her. She’s a woman of the world, and she certainly shows it.
One of the things that really intrigued me about the story is that it is built on an almanac, which apparently were very popular at the time. Almanacs were not mere calendars, but they offered  stories, advice pertinent to the season, time of performing task especially in a countryside setting. And people further used them as diaries, where they wrote down their thoughts and everyday happenings. This story sots off with an entry in Tabitha’s mother’s almanac, in which the woman recorder what looks at first as a very unassuming, although unusual, event: the poisoning of a dog.

The characters are all very relatable and I especially loved the sense of community that transpires in the first half of the book. It is really like being in among those people. I got a very strong sense of the life of that kind of community. This went a bit lost in the second half that focuses more on Tabitha’s relationship with Nat.

The story is set in a very peculiar moment of British history, when the calendar was updated to atone to the continental calendar and roughly two weeks were lost in September. This gives the opportunity to ponder time, the way people perceives it, how real it is. All though the book, we gets impressions of time (the chiming of the bells, clocks, the shifting of the season, the movements of the stars, the almanac itself) which lends a very peculiar soul to this story and is probably the thing I liked the most.

As much as I liked the story, I was very little impressed by the resolution. After building a strong case, following logical steps and realistic events, the ending relies to a very tired cliché. There are, indeed, quite a few sleeps in the ending that ruined a bit of the enjoyment for me. Characters don’t act as themselves, motives become lame, the chain of events questionable. It’s a huge pity, since the story itself was everything but.
Shame. But it was still an enjoyable story.


In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies


THE ALMANACK (Martine Bailey) An unassuming note in her mother's almanac about the poisoning of a dog sets Tabitha on the hunt of her mother's murder. Seacrets abound in this unusual mystery set in an 1700s England full of alchemy and the sense of time

4 Comments

  • JOHN T. SHEA
    Posted May 23, 2019 at 21:10

    A reflective piece, which takes its time, and evokes time. At an unusual time, when Protestant England changed to Catholic Europe’s time. Timely perhaps, now at the time of Brexit!

  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted May 23, 2019 at 21:36

    This does sound like a very interesting look at that time and place, Sarah! And it is fascinating that it’s built around an almanac. That’s innovative. I have to admit, too, that I have a bias towards historical novels that really give you a look at the lives of individual people (rather than larger things like, say, battles.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted May 24, 2019 at 09:54

      Me too, Margot. This is truly an unusual novel and I really enjoyed it, to the point that I’ll suggest to read it in spite of the final let down (well, ‘my’ final let down).

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