Death and Mr Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis

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Death and Mr Pickwick Source: Library

Five words from the blurb: London, homage, Dickensian, history, ideas

Death and Mr Pickwick was the most atmospheric book I read last year. It was an immersive read, capturing life exactly as it was during Dickensian times. It purports to tell the story of the real Mr Pickwick, showing how Dickens changed the truth when writing his famous novel. I haven’t read The Pickwick Papers, and have no idea whether Stephen Jarvis has discovered the real story, but I don’t think this matters. It was a fascinating book that entertained me for many hours.

Death and Mr Pickwick was incredibly well researched. The wealth of information present in this book was outstanding and I discovered many new things about this period of time. The descriptions were vivid throughout and I loved the way that everything was described in detail – enabling the reader to form a complete picture of the surroundings:

Whole sides of pig hung from the hooks on the long sheds, and there was the smell of boiling meat. Stray dogs, driven wild with temptation, befriended the market workers, sniffing their aprons which were soiled green-brown with hay and grass, an animal’s last meal before slaughter. There was the sound of sawing and steel being sharpened. On the tripe stalls, black beetles fought for territory with the flies. At the rear of a shed, a ragged collection of men and women queued to collect a pint of tripe broth, theirs for the flourish of a jug.

It’s realism occasionally became frustrating, as there were meandering diversions to the central story-line. Some were as engaging as the central plot, but a few fell flat and seemed unnecessary. The style isn’t for everyone and those looking for a plot driven novel should stay away. But, if you like a truly immersive novel, one that takes you down numerous side alleys without caring whether or not the loose ends are tied up, then this is for you. 

This book wasn’t a quick read. The period detail and the numerous diversions from the central plot made it feel much longer than the 800 page brick it already was.  It was so rich in detail that I couldn’t read much at once. This meant it took me several months to complete, and I felt a real sense of achievement when I actually did. 

I loved the originality of the premise and the way it seemed to defy all common conventions on novel writing. It felt different from anything else I’ve read recently and so I recommend it to anyone (with patience) who is interested in Victorian England.

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10 Comments

  1. I want to thank you for that review of my novel Death and Mr Pickwick. I am absolutely delighted that you found it the most atmospheric book of 2015. It took a very long time to write the novel, as I wanted to capture a sense of life in the past, and to receive a response like yours really does makes all the research and effort worthwhile. I have posted a copy of the review on the novel’s facebook page:

    http://www.facebook.com/deathandmrpickwick

    Indeed, I do hope you will take a look at the page. There is a real sense of a ‘fan community’ starting up there. I post something on the page every day, and the great thing is that others post too – and actually, one fan suggested recently that probably no other novel has such a facebook presence as Death and Mr Pickwick. All the details in the book, including the digressions, allow the novel to be discussed from many, many angles – and of course facebook also allows the opportunity for a visual dimension, so there are photos of places featured in the book, pictures of characters, illustrations from the period, and so on.

    Anyway, thank you once again.

    Very best wishes

    Stephen Jarvis

    1. Jackie says:

      Stephen, Thank you for taking the time to comment. It’s clear that you’ve taken a long time to research this book as the detail is incredible. I really hope that this book gets the attention it deserves.
      Good luck!

  2. I wonder what kind of read it would be like if you had read The Pickwick Papers. I’ve never read it, and hadn’t heard of this before reading your review — honestly, it sounds like a daunting read!

    1. To answer your question Jenny: if you HAVE read The Pickwick Papers before, you will hear ‘echoes’ of that book in Death and Mr Pickwick which other readers will miss. But there is absolutely no need at all to have read Pickwick first. The two novels are both self-contained. As for being a daunting read…well, it is certainly very long, but some fans have told me that they wish it were even longer!! Also, you might take a look at a post by one of my fans on facebook, which I reposted on the novel’s own FB page. Here it is:

      https://www.facebook.com/deathandmrpickwick/posts/775466399253881

      Best wishes

      Stephen Jarvis, author, Death and Mr Pickwick

    2. Jackie says:

      Jenny, Yes, it is a daunting read, but I think it is worth the effort. I’m pleased I was able to bring it to your attention!

      1. Many thanks Jackie. One of my fans recently described Death and Mr Pickwick as “a once-in-a-lifetime book that really stays in the mind”. So even if it is daunting read, perhaps such a book should be attempted once in a lifetime. And I do hope that people will visit the http://www.facebook.com/deathandmrpickwick page. There is all sorts of material on it, with the emphasis on the visual – and if you scroll down a couple of posts you will even see that there is the opportunity to win a deck of Pickwick-themed playing cards. Very best wishes Stephen Jarvis

  3. Hello again

    I thought you might be interested in a piece of Death and Mr Pickwick news – the facebook posts for Death and Mr Pickwick, which have now been appearing for a year, are being collected into a series of e-flipbooks, forming The Chronicles of Death and Mr Pickwick! This makes them much easier to read – and I hope that, if you think an 800-page novel is a daunting prospect, that the flipbook might be a way of showing the riches the novel offers. There is a huge range of material, posted by myself and others, including pictures by Dickensian artists, accounts of excursions to places connected to the novel, historical investigations, and much more.

    Volume 1 is now online, covering the first six months of posts. To access it, go to http://www.deathandmrpickwick.com and click on the ‘Further Reading’ tab. You’ll see a link to the flipbook. You then expand the flipbook to full-screen by clicking on the symbol on the right, and use the arrows to flip the pages. You can also zoom, and switch to a single-page, double-page or multi-page format.
    Volume 2 will be coming soon!

    Best wishes

    Stephen Jarvis

  4. Hello again

    I don’t know whether you have heard the news – Death and Mr Pickwick has just been nominated for one of the world’s major literary prizes, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical novels.

    Best wishes

    Stephen

    1. Jackie says:

      Congratulations! I’m sure it will be the first of many!

      1. Thank you very much, Jackie!

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