Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

CanongateISBN-13: 978-1-78689-376-5

A Costa Award winner, Kidd has been nominated for many more, and judging by Things in Jars, the accolades are well-deserved. She clearly delights in the written word—its rhythms, cadence and music, and her audacious playfulness with language bring to mind Dylan Thomas and Charles Dickens. Her exuberant prose conjures up the filth and squalor of Victorian London—its mephitic smells and high danger—but also its colour, vibrancy and wonder. Highly entertaining.

Things In Jars is described as a Victorian detective novel. A convenient label, for shelving the work, but this is a genre-defying story in the mould of Jesse Burton’s The Miniaturist and Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent. Admittedly, there is a mystery at the heart of the novel—a missing child whom female detective Bridie Devine is commissioned to recover—but this is no ordinary abduction, and Christabel is no ordinary child. In this ravishingly told tale, science clashes with folkloric magic, while obsessive collectors vie with crazed anatomists, psychopathic surgeons and unscrupulous showmen to acquire the ‘curiosity’ that will make their fortunes. Bridie herself is no stranger to the freakish: apprenticed as a child to a ‘Resurrection Man’, Bridie saw horrors no child should see; her housemaid is a terrifying giant whom Bridie rescued from a circus sideshow—and Bridie is being haunted by an amorous ghost! Toughened, though not hardened, by her experiences, Bridie is peculiar, intelligent, independent, with a great heart.