Review Blog

Jun 02 2010

The Twisted heart by Rebecca Gowers

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Cannongate Books, 2010. ISBN 9781847671554.
(Age 16 - adult) Recommended. In this quirky look at life in Oxford today, Kit, the main character, takes up ballroom dancing as a distraction from her research, which tends to be obsessive. She is researching death in Victorian England and in particular is connecting the death of the fictional Nancy in Dickens Oliver Twist with the real murder of a woman, Eliza Grimwood, at that time. There are interesting coincidences between the two deaths or are they parallels? Was Dickens' description of the murder of Nancy written before or after the murder of Eliza? Was he influenced by the press descriptions of the crime, or did his fictional murder influence the perpetrator? Kit's research becomes so absorbing that her everyday life seems tedious. However, Joe, who she meets at the dancing class and with whom she forms a tentative relationship, distrusts her fascination with gore and blood; he has experience of violence as his own damaged brother is a victim of crime. He attempts to show her that life is about real rather than researched relationships, and ultimately Kit happily embraces this concept.
Rebecca Gowers has written non-fiction about crime in Victorian England, and she writes convincingly about this period and the thrill of research discoveries. The information about Dickens and his life is biographically accurate as is the discussion of the police investigation of the murder. The contemporary plot perhaps rings less true, as there are some convenient and too easily resolved difficulties, but the novel is nonetheless an enjoyable read.
Jenny Hamilton

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