Warning: Contains Spoilers!
Carver’s days of evil were over and Death seemed to lurk in the shadows nearby, waiting to drag the soul from his failing body.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: This is another of those chapters where we see the entirety of the Deptford universe as one enormous tapestry. In The Dark Portal, the plague had a major role in and of itself, but here we roll back the centuries to glimpse the truth of the evil which Jupiter summoned upon the heath.
Matt said in a previous post that what makes this aspect of The Alchymist’s Cat so frightening is that it’s all historical fact – the pest houses were real, and people like Peggy Blister and Ned Bunkit really did profit from the sickness. I’ve heard historians nowadays describe the Great Plague as ‘apocalyptic’ more than once, and here we get a genuine sense of what that meant for the people of the time. In Will’s figurative shoes, we are treated to a grand tour of the hellscape that the Black Death has made of London, and it makes for evocative and moving reading.
Speaking of moving, how heartbreaking is Mother Myrtle as a character? There she is, little old lady, probably spent her life in the mission, not a bad word to say about anyone, and dying a slow, painful death. Honestly, it makes you shed a tear. That said, it’s also quite heartening to imagine that among the Spittles and Lingleys of the world, there were folks like Mother Myrtle who did their best to care for the plague victims with the few resources available.
Molly revealing her face in the pest house is one of those scenes that is indelibly etched into my imagination. On reread I was reminded of Henrietta Rae’s ‘The Lady with the Lamp’ – the contrast of the horror of the pestilence with Molly’s angelic image is nothing short of poetic, the kind of scene that could easily become a painting. I wonder if either Molly or Mother Myrtle were inspired by any real historical figures?
Matt’s Thoughts: I thought this chapter was brilliant. It steadily moves the plot forward and answers questions about how Will ended up with Spittle from earlier in the book, so if nothing else, it’s intriguing.
But I’m increasingly developing a fondness for ‘Jarvis bit players’ – those characters that make a brief appearance but immediately register in the brain.
In this case, it’s the contrast between the hideous drunken coachman, Ned Bunkit, (another horrific sequence) and the miraculous Mother Myrtle. Myrtle’s kindness and light shine through this chapter, cutting through the darkness. (And that itself is a bit of a theme in this chapter, isn’t it? The light of the lamp cutting through the room or the gleam of Molly’s hair. It’s all light and darkness.)