Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Why Persephone shouldn't be allowed near bookshops

This past summer, I made a pilgrim's stop at the one of the Holy Four Bookshops of Victoria. Then I came back a few times, for I had spotted my heart's desire.

The bookshop was Ivy's in Oak Bay*, conveniently close to one of my house-sits and perilously close for someone like me, who strives and fails to keep her luggage light for increasingly stringent airline requirements.

But, oh! It was Matthew Green's London: A Travel Guide Through Time, for which I'd longed since seeing it promoted on the London Historians Facebook page, and for which I'd been waiting to appear in paperback. I'm a sucker for the time-travel approach to history, having loved Ian Mortimer's A Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England and A Time
Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England

What excited me about Matthew Green's book is that the focus is on London. I adore London Walks; I bullied elder daughter into taking several during her two recent trips to England. These six tours are a little bit like London Walks, except that they involve overnight stays in ancient London inns, and begin with a step through a wormhole in time -- Green starts each tour with the traveller standing at a point in modern London before moving through the layers of time to: 1603 London where Shakespeare's plays - and neighbouring bear fights - are packing 'em in on the South Bank; a relatively tiny London of 1390 where Richard II reigns; plague-ridden London of 1665, before the Great Fire; the many contradictory worlds of Victorian London in 1884, post-Blitz and pre-Cool 1957 London; and the coffee-house London of 1716.

If you love London and history (and gawd knows, I do), this is bliss. Matthew Green carefully immerses your senses, supplying not only visual details, but what you will hear, smell, feel, and taste - heaven help you. He also gives practical survival tips: best not to appear alien or foreign in Shakespearean London; find a white stick, and you will be given a wide berth by 17th century Londoners fearing the plague; and if you're a woman visiting an eighteenth century London coffee house, disguise yourself as a man, or be taken for a prostitute.

This is a book I will want to re-read several times - preferably with a map, as the maps provided aren't that helpful for anyone not intimately familiar with the city. I will also want to pick up the many details I missed the first time around, not to mention examine the end-notes and check out the recommended reading list.  And I will be thinking of the members of both my family and that of the Resident Fan Boy who made London their home in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

So, as you may have gathered, I snapped in the book shop, and gave into temptation.  And I didn't even get charged for overweight luggage.

 I put the book in my carry-on bag.

*The other three are Munro's Books, Russell Books, and Bolen Books.  Look them up!

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