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Derby Day [Paperback]

D. J. Taylor
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

June 1 2011
As the shadows lengthen over the June grass, all England is heading for Epsom Downs - high life and low life, society beauties and Whitechapel street girls, bookmakers and gypsies, hawkers and acrobats, punters and thieves. Whole families stream along the Surrey back-roads, towards the greatest race of the year. Hopes are high, nerves are taut, hats are tossed in the air - this is Derby Day. For months people have been waiting and plotting for this day. Even in dark November, when the wind whistles through the foggy London courts, the alehouses and gentlemen's clubs echo to the sound of disputed odds. In Belgrave Square old Mr Gresham is baffled by his tigerish daughter Rebecca, whose intentions he cannot fathom. In the clubs of St James' rakish Mr Happerton plays billiards with his crony Captain Raff, while in darkest Lincolnshire sad Mr Davenant broods over his financial embarrassments and waits for his daughter's new governess. Across the channel the veteran burglar Mr Pardew is packing his bags to return, to the consternation of the stalwart detective Captain McTurk. Everywhere money jingles and plans are laid. Uniting them all is the champion horse Tiberius, on whose performance half a dozen destinies depend. In this rich and exuberant novel, rife with the idioms of Victorian England, the mysteries pile high, propelling us towards the day of the great race, and we wait with bated breath as the story gallops to a finish that no one expects.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Review

"Derby Day is a triumphant success...in this unputdownable Victorian romp [Taylor] enjoyable proves himself to be one of the finest of our 21st-century novelists" Financial Times "Rich and gorgeous as a plum cake, this is absorbing entertainment indeed" -- Kate Saunders Times "Taylor, as you would expect of such an accomplished novelist and biographer, has immersed himself in the details of the early 1860s. The novel is richly redolent of the novels of Wilkie Collins, Dickens and Thackeray. The characters who plot and squirm throughout the course of Derby Day are fully rounded and memorably drawn and the atmosphere is palpable. In fact here is an intelligent novel which is also a genuine page-turner. Truly a terrific read" Daily Express "Derby Day is pitch-perfect... It's enormous fun and meticulously researched and conceived" Guardian "Taylor has written an exceptionally clever pastiche nineteeth-century novel with a richness of character that almost matches his models of Dickens and Thackeray" Sunday Times --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

D.J. Taylor was born in Norwich in 1960. He is a novelist, critic and acclaimed biographer, whose Orwell: The Life won the Whitbread Biography prize in 2003. His most recent books are Kept: A Victorian Mystery (a Publishers Weekly Book of the Year), Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918-1940, and the novels Ask Alice and At the Chime of a City Clock. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Victorian tribute and a finely tuned plot May 26 2012
By Rodge TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
One never knows what one will get in a supposedly Victorian modern novel. In the case of Derby Day, the usual pitfalls are avoided as Taylor serves up a pleasing mystery in superb style. The story is anchored by the lead up to the annual Derby that takes place outside London in the nineteenth century and all the hype, speculation and skulduggery that goes along with it. Besides a well-done plot, Taylor serves up memorable characters as well. Newlywed Mrs. Happerton, whose true motivations are unclear, a clever burglar who is contacted to do one more big job, forgery, and a detective not above using spectacle in the pursuit of justice.

You might call this a literary book with a thriller's touch or a thriller with a literary touch. When it comes right down to it I can't make up my mind.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars D--d fine Victoriana Aug. 21 2011
By las cosas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a sprawling novel that takes place in approximately 1870 and culminates in the Epson Derby. The writing is an approximation of that employed in Victorian novels, and the structure of the book, along with the characters and plot, would not be out of place in a serialized novel of the time.

This is risky for a novelist to attempt, and I'm not certain whether such a concept will prove popular in the United States, but I found it generally successful. The caveat to that is that I read and reread a large number of Victorian novels, and have great patience for their length.

The pacing of the book is languid, particularly at the beginning, but the various tentacles of the plot finally come together for the Derby. Actually the main plot strands come together around the race, but there is a non-Victorian epilogue that tells us what happened to other characters.

The main character, Mr. Happerton, has many of the characteristics admired by Victorian novelists and readers. A self-made man who, while clearly only interested in his own monetary advancement, is pleasant, diligent and farsighted. But we soon learn he is an amoral cad, and in no sense a gentleman. All keen readers of Victorian fiction know the eventual destiny of such persons. The only suspense in the book (and by this I mean Dickens' suspense, not Wilkie Collins' mystery) is who will win the Derby.

The book is great fun, filled with minor Victorian wit (sitting longer than Gladstone, endless dissenter quips) and a reasonably good ear for Victorian prose. But the entirety of the book is a tad thin, and none of the characters, or scenes, live up to the standards of fine Victorian literature. After finishing this I reread Trollope's The Eustace Diamonds. Rebecca Happerton is an insecure, repressed woman who would benefit from some mentoring from Lizzie Eustace.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enigmatic Evil Sept. 9 2011
By Carol Colitti Levine - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Derby Day, D.J. Taylor- An homage to the Victorian novel. Taylor deftly conjures the genre, although only a few characters resonate. He defies any period in his portrayal of Rebecca, the central female figure. She is the epitome of enigmatic evil. Delicious. More Hardy than Thackeray, Taylor paints bleak Lincolnshire countryside mist or decrepit Fitzrovia alley blight with a finer brush than Belgrave Square's West End Society. ****

Carol Colitti Levine The Side Trek
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I GOT THE HORSE RIGHT HERE Jan. 30 2013
By Ismene - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It took some time for Derby Day to leave the post, but when it did it was a winner. I think the massive amounts of threads had to come together to show the plot. Because it was a slow read, I would not recommend it for everyone.
The character we ended up with was not one where we got into her head, but she was always the one we wanted
to ask:" Are you getting this? who is riding this story?"
I'm not sure why it was a finalist for the Booker Prize. But then I have never understood the appeal of Hillary Mantel's books as the "best" either. It is a rather modest little charming work. The author captures the Victorian tone and does
much by innuendo which makes the reader feel intelligent rather than spelling it all out.
5.0 out of 5 stars Back to the Future! Dec 12 2013
By reading man - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Amazing that a contemporary British novelist wants to write 19th century novels like DERBY DAY!

Since one of his favorite writers is Thackeray (he wrote an excellent bio of WMT), and since he's criticized most of his contemporaries as not being equal to the 19th century giants, it follows that he takes his lead from temps perdu.

And he's a great writer. Definitely the only current British novelist worth reading, far superior to the best-selling Martin Amis, a very pale simulacrum of Amis pere.
4.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant Victorian romp Nov. 18 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This novel, though it stands alone perfectly adequately, is a sequel of sorts to "Kept" (which I personally found to be one of the most enjoyable novels I've read in years). Where "Kept" is a more sweeping Dickensian novel with lots of subplots, Derby Day is relatively constrained. I say relatively because there's still a fair amount going on, but most of the action is constrained around the horse Tiberius and the Derby plot fairly directly. Derby Day has a Victorian sense to it, in the general setting of course, but there's a sort of Thackeray voice as well narrating things and pointing out inanities or incongruities.

For a novel of this size (400 pages) it's a bit thin. None of the characters never really get quite fleshed out in the way that one might like, and some of the characters and subplots don't seem to repay their inclusion.

I think fans of Victorian/period novels will enjoy this.
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