London. 1850. The Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park, and among the crowd watching the spectacle, two people meet. For Iris, an aspiring artist, it is the encounter of a moment - forgotten seconds later, but for Silas, a collector entranced by the strange and beautiful, that meeting marks a new beginning.
When Iris is asked to model for pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly her world begins to expand, to become a place of art and love.
But Silas has thought of only one thing since their meeting, and his obsession is darkening....
I'd seen a lot of people talking about this book and I got it on a summer read offer from iTunes. The reviews have been mixed in my opinion and my review is a little mixed itself.
I loved the idea, of a young Victorian lady being stalked in the style of a modern thriller, though this element came and went along side a love story. Imagine the era, where if someone were to vanish it would be a lot harder to track them down. There was no social media. No find my phone apps. The police not as it is today, no forensics or databases. It made the stalking of Silas all the more sinister.
You do sort of feel sorry for him at first, that he's not as intelligent as he makes out to be, of poor education and background, who makes up fantasies of conversations he's had with people and convinces himself that they were utterly real. That is until his past starts to unravel in his mind and the significance of the mice are apparent.
I like Iris as a character, her passion, her want to defy the social constraints placed on her by her family, bucking it all first to be an artists model and then an artist herself. Louis was an interesting man, with his painting, his french poetry and his pet Wombat. One of my favourite characters was the urchin Alby, who all he wanted in the world was to be able to save enough to buy himself some real teeth and I cried for him.
However, there are certain elements in the book that make my opinion of it flip. There are several long letters from the characters to each other, or from people we don't meet to the characters which fill in the gaps of what is going on around the characters that they cannot be aware of in any other fashion because they are not all seeing. These letter although often tying one section of prose to the other, were rather stilted and jotted in here and there will not pattern to it.
Also the ending fell flat to me. There is some attempt to display character resolution in yet another letter describing a painting, no doubt finished after the ordeal that is the main focus of the last part of the book, but it answers little of the questions raised. Also you learn nothing of what happens to Silas. I always like to know the bad guy gets his just desserts, but the ending does not really touch on this. The last 20 minutes of the book turned out to be an interview with the author - which I must admit I turned off because I was so disappointed that, that was it - all she wrote.
I give it