When the 28-year-old wasn’t writing her debut novel, Lauren Owen was completing an MA in Victorian Literature, and is mid-way through a PhD on Gothic Writing. But her penmanship actually began with Harry Potter fan fiction.
A glance at the owl on the black, swirly cover of her first novel, The Quick might lead you to believe Hedwig is making a cameo, but you’ll soon learn that owls signify something much more sinister in the story.
Unsurprisingly, the novel is set in Victorian England. It centres on the coming of age of brother-and-sister pairing James and Charlotte Norbury, who grow up in the eerie setting of an abandoned mansion house in Yorkshire.
What follows is a dark, at times horrifying foray into the bleakest corners of London, and its mysterious Aegolius Club. It’s not an easy ride, and it chills you to your bones in a most delicious way.After a childhood tragedy which bonds them together irrevocably, James tries to make it as a writer in London, while Charlotte stays in Yorkshire to care for her frail aunt, and desperately tries to understand her brother’s new life.
James is finding it hard to adapt to society, and his wild housemate Chris is certainly keeping things interesting in ways that distance him from his sister, but suddenly everything changes, and readers will have their world rocked with a gloriously ‘What the FUCK?’ type moment.
What follows is a dark, at times horrifying foray into the bleakest corners of London, and its mysterious Aegolius Club. It’s not an easy ride, and it chills you to your bones in a most delicious way.
You’ll need to be on your toes – Owen employs vast epistolary sections (diary entries), which get quite messy in places, and there are several jumps in time, setting and character as the bigger picture unfolds.
These are sometimes so sudden and extreme that the action becomes disorientating – a clever effect, but with such intense subject matter it can become somewhat exhausting.
However, Lauren’s prose is so refreshingly clean, with such wonderful balance between poetic and real, that you really won’t want to give up on The Quick.
Some of her descriptions of James’ thoughts and feelings were so slick they made me tingle, and the Victorian London setting really does sing from the pages with alarming authenticity. It’s possible Lauren is a time-traveller.
In honesty, the book is long, and sometimes pacing falls frustratingly flat. But it’s worth holding on for the frequent sections of frantic page-turning delirium that fills this gutsy novel. There’s also plenty to touch the soul – at times heartbreaking, at times awkwardly humourous, at times even sexy.
The Quick by Lauren Owen is all-consuming, heart-in-your-mouth read that is as satisfying as it is thrilling. I consumed it, and am now hungry for more.