The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 9

tac

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Like some ghastly angel of Death the plague spread its dark wings over the city, moving stealthily from house to house.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: If things were bad for Will before, they are about it get a good deal worse as we move into the ghoulish second act.

The Black Death was not something that I knew a great deal about as a young’un listening to this on tape, but I definitely knew what it was and roughly when it had occurred. What I love about Mr Jarvis’ treatment of history in his books is that he never sugar-coats things or tries to wash out the grisly details, but at the same time it’s not so traumatic that a young, somewhat morbidly-minded reader whose knowledge of the plague amounts to a few history lessons would be deterred from wanting to find out more. The way the plague closes around London like an enormous cruel hand is just so sinister and evocative – we want to look away, and yet, we are compelled to read on.

Despite my dislike for Lingley, the revelation concerning his rather wretched demise did give me a pang of sympathy. His humiliation may have been deserved in some ways, but, if we assume that it was the impetus for his suicide, then Spittle has essentially caused the death of another flawed but essentially innocent person. Sir Francis might’ve been insufferable and callous, but Spittle is a murderer, albeit indirectly, and certainly deserves the downfall I wished upon him last chapter.

It’s testament to how skilled Mr Jarvis is at creating even tertiary characters that the death of the Gobtrots hit me as hard as the death of any major character in his books. I suppose they could never have survived long in a Robin Jarvis book, being awfully nice and disgracefully lovable, but I was upset to see them go all the same.

Finally, as if the catalogue of human suffering in this chapter were not enough, we have Imelza’s doomed bid for freedom. What an absolutely dreadful scene! It mirrors the finale of The Crystal Prison in that it’s really a deeply perspicacious illustration of how any large-scale calamity, in this case the Great Plague, can turn otherwise reasonable people into a murderous mob. Rest ye in the void, O Imelza, Empress of Night and Mother of Calamities. Watch over your children in the dark time ahead.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: And this is the beginning of the major tonal shift in the story, but the one we’ve known has been coming for awhile – the arrival of the Black Plague. What makes this so particularly bleak and terrible is that none of this comes from the Jarvis imagination. The deaths, the shut-up pest-houses, the randomness of who was going to die from it, the plague doctors – it’s all straight out of history.

I know a lot of people aren’t feeling all that great about our current day and age, but I don’t think we can even begin to comprehend, except through tales like this, what it must have been like living through something on that level. And is it something that could only have happened back in the past? I’m not sure. Our modern medicine is pretty good, but we can’t foresee everything …

We haven’t seen this level of bleakness since The Final Reckoning and even then, that had a fantasy element to it that you could use to detach from it. But this chapter feels much more real (for me, at any rate).

And despite Aufwader and I having a disagreement over whether there was any sympathy due to Lingley, his suicide in this chapter just made me feel for him even more. But that barely had time to register because the Gobtrots are out of the picture as well.

And Imelza.

Did I block this part out of my mind as a kid? I’m not sure, but I don’t remember reading this section before and I was utterly horrified. This is grim stuff, Mr Jarvis, really grim.

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “The Alchymist’s Cat | Chapter 9

  1. The plague must have been truly horrifying, spreading fast and completely undiscerning as to who it killed. Now it becomes clear just why Jupiter was planning on unleashing it once again upon the world in The Dark Portal… he saw it firsthand and knew the devastation it could bring.

    I too was saddened at the deaths of the Gobtrots – it was so poignant that the two of them died hand in hand.

    In spite of her potential married name sounding like a “pig being sick”, Peggy Blister and Sir Francis Lingley might very well have made a good pair. They were both painted up and all about looks.

    As a cat lover there are several moments in this book that are particularly hard for me to read, and the scene with Imelza at the end of this chapter is one of them. The realism here only makes it worse. The animals in the other Deptford novels are so anthropomorphic that you tend to not really see them for what they are, but in a story that takes place mostly outside of their world among people, it’s more difficult to do that.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah thats kinda weird about this book re: the cats. Its them interacting with the humans like Spittle as if theyre ‘real’ animals, but in the illustrations theyre still the classic Jarvis animal people, walking upright too (well, only Jupiter is I think – hes a familiar so makes sense)

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I know the death of Imelza is grim, but that’s what happened at the time. People killed the cats and dogs, thinking they were spreading the plague, when in truth those animals might have actually saved a few lives by killing some rats. Horrible irony.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. As a kid I read a LOT of stuff like Horrible Histories and its various knock-offs, especially Horrible Science, and both these series just loved to describe the sheer filth and disease that previous centuries had to endure. And boy they *loved* talking about the Black Death, so I already knew what I was in for – both the plague and death itself, and people’s terrible reactions to it.

    Mind, I give this book a lot of credit for actually talking about just how unhygienic living conditions in the 17th century were, cos whilst Im sure theres probably other examples of historical fiction that’s also just as accurate, most of the media dealing with previous eras is just kitschy nonsense that often just brushes the topic off*, or at worst actually dresses it up as ‘cute’ (again, see the entirety of modern media fixating on the Victorian era. Hell Id argue the similar obsession for the 1900s-1930s is similarly questionable too – if you’ve read ‘Road to Wigan Pier’, then lets just say it wasnt that much better than the London shown here)

    *I remember Horowitz’s ‘The Devil and His Boy’ barely even acknowledging the topic despite trying to be ‘grim’ (whilst having Elizabeth I have a talking cat – yeah), to name an example of another kitschier take on the Tudor/Stuart eras

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve been doing research for a story I’m writing set in early 19th century Edinburgh (involving body snatchers), and really the living conditions there were absolutely horrible, at least for the average person. It had gotten so bad by the late 18th century that the wealthy moved into a New Town on the outskirts of the medieval city, leaving the poor to wallow in filth. It was a fascinating time in history, but I wouldn’t want to live during it! The same goes for 17th century London as depicted in this book, and really any time before the modern era. We are incredibly lucky to be living now instead of then!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yeah it was a pretty horrendous time, and something that almost all media relating to that time ignores completely (its pretty weird that the works of Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens got adapted into the sort of kitsch Im talking about when they were writing about how horrendous their time was)

        I think there was one book set in the early 19th century I read (some so-so detective thing) and it only touched on the ‘hulk’ prison ships but in the context of ‘ew these gangster freaks’ as opposed to just how awful the general period was

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Poor Imelza! Hers is one of the most horrific deaths I’ve read, because it just feels so REAL. Probably because, subconsciously, we know fine well that people actually DID kill cats and dogs this way. One of the many examples of a character I wish I could pluck from a terrible fate and place somewhere kinder… like my own home, haha

    Liked by 3 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s