21 October 2019

Review: Mudlarking - Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem

Mudlarking - Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem book cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury Circus *

Mudlarking is the act of searching or scavenging in the river mud at low tide seeking items of value. Modern mudlarks forage in the mud in search of items from history - regardless of value - and it's amazing what they find. I saw the River Thames in person for the first time in 2012 but it's always been fascinating to me as a repository of history.

Author Lara Maiklem is a proud London mudlark and shares her finds in Mudlarking - Lost and Found on the River Thames. First, some interesting facts about the Thames from the book.

Facts

"...the height between low and high water at London Bridge varies from fifteen to twenty-two feet [and] it takes six hours for the water to come upriver and six and a half for it to flow back out to sea." Page 3
"The tides today are higher than they have been at any time in history." Page 13
"... in 1957, the Natural History Museum declared the Thames 'biologically dead' ... A campaign to clean up the Thames began in the 1960s and by the end of the 1970s the river was considered to be 'rehabilitated'. It is now cleaner than it has been in living memory and supports over 125 species of fish." Page 259

Finds

In Mudlarking, Lara Maiklem takes us down the river from Teddington to the Estuary and the open sea in a combination of memoir, archaeology, science and history in a narrative non-fiction style of writing. She tells us her preferred method of searching the river bed and banks is to kneel with her 'nose barely inches from the foreshore' where she completely immerses herself in the task.

One of my favourite finds from the book was the legend of the Doves Type. A bookbinder by the name of Cobden-Sanderson tipped 500,000 pieces of lead type into the river at Hammersmith. Following a dispute about the ownership of the type with Emery Walker, he bequeathed the type to the River Thames between 1913 - 1916 and mudlarks have been searching for them ever since. Such a fascinating story.

In January 2018 I thoroughly enjoyed How To Be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman and the tidbit that pins from this era are still being found in the Thames today. Maiklem expands on the humble pin on page 86 and I was transfixed by her words. She tells us pins accumulate and wash together in tangled metallic nests and that pins are one of her favourite treasures to find because they're so ordinary.

History

I also enjoyed the London Bridge chapter, particularly the information about old London bridge.
"The old bridge was built with nineteen arches of varying widths and wide piers... which created a virtual barrier across the river, impeding its flow and trapping the tide." Page 145
I had no idea the construction of the old bridge slowed the water to such an extent the river froze over in harsh winters. I knew about the festivities that took place when the Thames froze over in the 1600s but wasn't aware that it doesn't do so now because these obstructions were removed when the old bridge was demolished.

Turning to more recent history and how did I not know about London's Riveria known as Tower Beach?
"The half-moon of soft yellow sand that forms a gentle hill in front of the river wall and peters out to shingle towards the river, is all that remains of 'London's Riviera', 1,500 barge-loads of Essex sand that was spread over the foreshore to create a public beach in 1934." Page 165
Apparently Tower Beach was a great success and in 1935 approximately 100,000 people came to 'holiday' beside the Thames. What a sight this must have been.

Memoir

From the very beginning, Maiklem tells the reader just what mudlarking means to her:
"I have carefully arranged meetings and appointments according to the tides, and conspired to meet friends near the river so that I can steal down to the foreshore before the water comes in and after it's flowed out. I've kept people waiting, bringing a trail of mud and apologies in my wake; missed the start of many films and even left early to catch the last few inches of foreshore. I have lied, cajoled and manipulated to get time by the river. It comes knocking at all hours and I obey..." Page 3
Armed with this information on just how much this obsession controls the author's life, I formed the opinion she'd make an unreliable friend and frustrating partner but is no doubt a highly experienced mudlarker.

However she makes mention several times throughout the book that she won't share specific locations. By omitting them the reader can join the dots on their own (or not), but openly stating she won't share the locations made her seem arrogant in my view.

Here's an example:
"I have two American plantation tokens, both of which I found within a few feet of each other (I'm not saying where), and several years apart." Page 203
What's the point? Trust me, her finds are fascinating enough (buckles, coins, leather shoes, buttons, clay pipes, beads, ink pots and more) and I don't think anyone would expect her to disclose her secret locations.

Another thing that irked me was her belief that a portion of the shore had been taken away from her. When telling the reader about nets of stones placed against the river wall in Greenwich in an attempt to prevent erosion, she says:
"My special patch has been covered up, ... and half an hour on every tide has been taken away from me." Page 248
I'd like to tell the author 'your special patch isn't yours and so it can't be taken away from you'. Losing access may be a sore point, but have gratitude for the access you do have and what you managed to find there in the past. While Maiklem acknowledges the perils of erosion, she notes that it also washes out treasures for mudlarks to find.

Conclusion

On a lighter note, Maiklem has a marvellous ability to bring history to life. She uses her imagination to breathe life into the objects she unearths and I enjoyed this immensely.

However, I wish there had been photographs to accompany the text. So much of what the author shares with us has a visual component and I felt this was missing in Mudlarking. The only saving grace is that Maiklem has an awesome Instagram account and I was able to go there to see photographs of some of her finds.

In summary, I adored learning more about the history of the River Thames, I was gripped by every item the author discovered and researched but I could happily have done without the memoir aspect with no sense of loss at all.

Recommended reading for amateur and professional historians and genealogists; archaeologists; aquaphiles; environmentalists; museum lovers and the curious.

My Rating:
★ ★

18 October 2019

Friday Freebie: WIN a goodie bag from Stormbird Press

Today I've teamed up with the lovely folk from Stormbird Press, a not-for-profit indie Australian publisher. They publish fiction and nonfiction that defends nature and empowers communities through the power of story. Today they're offering Carpe Librum readers the chance to win a goodie bag chock full of bookish treats to promote Tales from the River - An Anthology of River Literature.

Blurb

At a time when wild rivers are imperilled, Tales from the River presents a timely collection of river literature from twenty-one authors exploring our vital relationship with rivers and how they shape our lives. 

Featuring original writing by award winning authors, and exciting new voices in eco-literature, each writer draws on their wisdom, compassion, and ecological consciousness to create a range of dramatic and timely stories. 

The stories are grouped by eco-regions, showing that connections with rivers also exist across space. The book asks: How do we stop the terrible decline of our wild rivers? We protect what we love, by standing together on the bank of a river.
Stormbird Press prize valued at $83.93AUD


Prize

Valued at $83.93AUD, the Stormbird Press gift bag contains:
  • One signed copy of Tales from the River ($32.95)
  • Bookmark ($2.50)
  • 2 eBook gift cards ($19.98)
  • Tote bag 35.6 x 35.6 x 7.6 cm ($25.00)
  • Fridge magnet $3.50

Enter below for your chance to win.

Giveaway



13 October 2019

Participating in Non Fiction November 2019

I love reading non fiction and last year I learned about the Non Fiction November Reading Challenge hosted by one of my favourite Booktubers, A Book Olive.

It's just been announced again and this year will be my first time officially participating. Here are some of the titles (listed alphabetically by author) from my TBR I'm thinking of reading:
  • The Innocent Reader: Reflections on Reading and Writing by Debra Adelaide
  • Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold
  • The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery by Catherine Bailey
  • Gothic by Fred Botting
  • Death on the Derwent: Sue Neill-Fraser’s story by Robin Bowles
  • Conan Doyle for the Defence by Margalit Fox
  • The Royal Art of Poison: Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicines and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman (already started reading)
  • Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane
  • Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem (reading now)
Have you read any of these books? Are you interested in reading any of them or doing a buddy read together?
I went back to see what I've read so far this year, and it's quite a lot! Here are the non fiction titles I've read so far in 2019 in chronological order:
Remember, non fiction doesn't have to be dry. It can include true crime, cookbooks, self help and more.

Let me know if you want to join me for Non Fiction November and what you'd like to read to celebrate this sometimes under-represented genre. You can find out more on TwitterGoodReads or YouTube.

Carpe Librum!

10 October 2019

Review: Bone China by Laura Purcell

Bone China by Laura Purcell cover
* Copy courtesy of Bloomsbury *

A gothic Victorian novel about consumption, grief and folklore set on the wind ravaged cliffs of Cornwall? Yes please! The Corset by Laura Purcell made my list of Top 5 Books of 2018 last year, making her latest novel Bone China my most anticipated release of the year. And I loved it!

Hester Why is a lady's maid and nurse running from her past when she applies for a post at Morvoren House in Cornwall. Her mistress Miss Pinecroft is seemingly affected by a stroke and in poor mental and physical health.

Hester slowly uncovers the mysterious workings at Morvoren House and the reader gains some insight into her previous positions. We're then taken back in time 40 years to when Miss Pinecroft assisted her father Dr Pinecroft in the attempt to find a cure for consumption. Ministering to prisoners under their care on the proviso their freedom would be assured upon recovery, Miss Pinecroft and her father could have no idea what was in store for them.

I thoroughly enjoyed the multiple plot lines however Hester's previous positions as lady's maid were the most gripping.

The forbidding landscape and gothic setting of Morvoren House combined with the local Cornish folklore created a menacing and creepy atmosphere, making this perfect for an October read.

Bone China by Laura Purcell was a highly enjoyable gothic historical fiction novel and although it didn't achieve the dizzying heights and absolute brilliance of The Corset, it certainly kept me in suspense the entire time and I highly recommend it.

Laura Purcell is now an automatic must-read author for me.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:

P.S. You can read my review of Laura Purcell's debut novel The Silent Companions here or my favourite novel of hers The Corset.
03 October 2019

Review: Silver by Chris Hammer

Silver by Chris Hammer book cover
Published 1 October 2019
RRP $32.99 AUD
* Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin *

Bursting onto the scene in August 2018, Scrublands by Australian author Chris Hammer was a bestseller. I predicted it would go on to win awards and I was right. Now, seasoned journalist Martin Scarsden is back in the much hyped sequel Silver.

Martin has finished writing his book about the dramatic events at Riversend and moves with his girlfriend back to his hometown of Port Silver. No sooner does he arrive than his girlfriend is a suspect in the murder of an old school mate and the story begins.

The victim runs the local real estate company and the plot contains a complex series of proposed developments and land sales that required me to continually flick back to the delightful map of the township at the front of the book.

Port Silver really shines here. While Riversend was a dusty, hot town in the grip of drought, Port Silver is a coastal town, fresh with retirees seeking a sea-change and delicious fish and chips.

Being back in his hometown after so many years away brings up painful memories for Martin and the reader learns more about his tragic past in flashbacks. These include revelations about his father and I really enjoyed learning more about Martin's backstory.

Coming in at 563 pages, Silver is a hefty read and in my opinion there was too much description. The pace of the novel often slowed as Martin observed his surroundings and contemplated nature while I was urging him to 'get on with it'. As in Scrublands, Martin does a lot of driving from place to place in his investigations in an effort to uncover the truth, and this started to wear thin too.

Apart from the initial murder, something happens further into the book that highlights the seedy underbelly of the town and really lifted the tension. However by the time Martin uses his journalistic skills to get to the bottom of it all - which includes his return to paid journalism - the thrill lost a little of its edge for me.

The property development mystery wasn't able to hold my interest through the various computations and variations and I soon lost interest there too.

In my opinion, Silver can be read as a standalone, but readers familiar with Scrublands will receive greater enjoyment from Martin's backstory. Scrublands is a whydunnit and Silver is a series of multiple whodunnits which I'm sure will find a deserved place on the Australian crime shelves of dedicated readers.

My Rating:
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