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Monday, 22 June 2015

The String of Pearls - Thomas Preskett Prest

This is the best book I've read for quite a long time, I have to say. I picked it up years ago when I was first getting interested in Victorian literature, but at the time it was very complex and hard-going for me, and even though I lasted the duration of the penny dreadful, I only understood about half of it. But this time I loved it! I also realised that it was set in the Georgian period - oops! - although I still continued to imagine the world pretty much the same as in the Tim Burton horror film.
I'll bet that many people are familiar with the story of Sweeney Todd, perhaps from the aforementioned film. It is very popular in Gothic and Steampunk themes on the internet, and has even inspired musicals! (Really, The String of Pearls is the last book I'd expect to see made into a musical, but Tim Burton did it fabulously, and there you go).
Many know that he is a barber on Fleet Street, serial killer of his customers, and then allows Mrs Lovett to dispose of the bodies into meat for pies. But in the original story I saw more angles to the characters, such as Sweeney Todd's greed and lust for money, as well as his despicable, callous nature, and hideous appearance and mannerisms. Some of that was lost in the film, from what I can remember, and I'd say that any fans of the Sweeney Todd world should invest in a reading of the Preskett Prest novel for a deeper understanding.
Speaking of character development, I found that Mrs Lovett wasn't as well-rendered, understandable, or developed as she is in the Tim Burton musical. We only see a meeting between Mrs Lovett and Mr Todd near the very end of the novel, and none of what is exchanged suggests any emotion besides a cool business-like relationship. In a way, this makes me like her less (as in the musical and portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter she was my favourite) as she seems even more psychopathic and inhumane, but at the same time it suggests a lot about her - such as that she cannot feel love or emotion for fellow human beings, as opposed to her love for Todd and Tobias in the musical.
As for Tobias, I loved him a lot in this story edition. I could feel his sadness and desperation to escape from the madhouse, and I was rooting for him through the whole ordeal! Again, there are new dimensions that are not touched upon in the musical.
More characters are introduced and explained that the reader could sympathize and relate to, such as Johanna Oakley, who longed to be reunited with her lover who went missing, leading her to believe that he was killed by Sweeney Todd. She was really brave throughout, and her family situation gave me plenty of shocks and laughs!

The story twists and turns so that the reader hardly feels that some little bits and pieces are unnecessary, but in the end I realised that everything is related to each other in some kind of richly-woven tapestry in Preskett Prest's plot. I felt that the plot was extremely intriguing, so much that I didn't want to put it down, but certain things - such as Sweeney Todd's incredibly suspicious behaviour and speech - made a lot of things so glaringly obvious. Even so, the climax and ending (my absolute favourite part especially where the pie shop is concerned) is absolutely, shockingly terrifying  and optimistic at the same time.
I'll definitely be giving this book a re-read sometime.

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