THE PECULIARITIES by David Liss.
Tachyon Publications. p/b. £13.44.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Threshers may be his family bank, but Thomas is and will remain a Junior Clerk unless he can persuade his older brother, Walter, of the importance of his mathematical prowess and understanding of financial transactions. For indeed, even limited to his role as a Junior Clerk, Thomas has discovered something very concerning about his late grandfather’s bank – it is losing money at a rapid pace, and it is not clear why Walter is buying up debts but not recalling the funds.
Now Walter has dictated another aspect of Thomas’s life. He is to marry the woman Walter has selected. There is no choice in the matter. A contract was signed. And it seems that in London, these days of the year 1899, the breaking of a contract has permanent, life-altering consequences. What Walter does not know is that Thomas is already suffering the consequences without having broken any contract.
There are stories of Peculiarities, spirit possessions and strange transformations, as Thomas well knows. He wouldn’t have believed it, but here he is, a victim of circumstances beyond his control. Can Thomas escape the duties imposed on him by his brother, uncover the mystery at the bank and learn more of the Peculiarities before his time runs out?
The Peculiarities tracks Thomas’ present tense investigation into his own affliction as he attempts to dodge his brother’s intentions for his future marital state and his brother’s lack of intentions for his career, and more importantly, understand the changes he is undergoing and whether there is any way to avoid this slow progression into a new, unwanted and highly restrictive life.
There are some deep, dark themes explored here – occult violation of body and soul, control, dark magic – weaving in the realities of race and gender discrimination of 19th century London, so the book definitely comes with the label of adult history-based fantasy fiction, but there is a tongue-in-cheek aspect to the writing and a joyful naïvety to Thomas’ narration that keeps the story flowing nicely and the more disturbing elements in check through to the end of a satisfying read.