Starting with a grisly murder scene, Myerson’s fourth novel (after Me and the Fat Man, 1999, etc.) probes murky waters in Victorian London, as a woman crippled and in love trades in her surgeon husband for a married laborer.
Laura Blundy does the dark deed, bludgeoning her carrot-topped spouse Ewan, first with a piece of sculpture, then with her crutch, and finally by poking a poker into his brain—all because he reacts negatively when she says she’s leaving him. There’s more to her reaction than meets the eye, of course: her middle-class childhood having ended when her father died and she was thrown into the streets, Laura embraced that urban underworld willingly. She bore a son after being raped, but gave him to an orphanage rather than keep him with her in the workhouse, only to be told a few years later that he’d died. Despondent, jailed on suspicion of having murdered another child, she saw her life going nowhere—and then a taxi carriage ran over her leg. Enter Ewan, the hospital surgeon who first tries to save her limb, then has to amputate it, all the while falling desperately in love with his paradox of a patient, the lovely woman who embodies good breeding and coarse carnality. Laura marries him, but theirs is a fitful passion, overseen by Ewan’s crone of a mother who lives with them. He wants children, Laura doesn’t. When Laura throws herself into the Thames to escape Ewan’s demands, she’s pulled out by Billy, a worker helping build the London sewer—and a new love is born. It’s a haunting union that neither can explain at first but both ardently desire; as its dreamlike nature unfolds, Laura must make room for Billy, then must persuade her lover to run away with her, leaving his own family behind.
The labors of love take on new meaning here, but despite the hypnotic quality of the prose, too many shadows fall across the heart of Laura Blundy, concealing more than they reveal.