This is a captivating look at the 18th Century London underworld, a mix of long-forgotten history and fiction written in an academic format, including footnotes.
Jordy Rosenberg is a professor of 18th-Century Literature, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Critical Theory at The University of Massachusetts-Amherst. This debut novel is the New York Times Editor’s Choice selection and shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.
This is not a book for those of prudish disposures as it opens the doors to sexuality, period erotica, crime, corruption and revolution while exploring the lives and loves of English pick pocket, thief and jailbreaker, Jack Sheppard. The publishers list the subject of this novel as ‘Gender studies: transsexuals & hermaphroditism’
The story is conveyed through the eyes of a Dr Voth, a man who seems to be teetering between sanity and obsession. His recent relationship has disintegrated and he has come upon a stack of papers; a manuscript of sorts, entitled Confessions of the Fox, which becomes an object of obsession that he can not leave alone. He needs to find and tell the story of the notorious Jack Sheppard.
Dr Voth, through the manuscript dated 1724, is transfixed by an orphan girl named as ‘P’ who was sold into servitude at twelve years of age and struggled to find love and a way to live her life as ‘Jack’. When she met and fell for Bess, a sex worker who was also struggling to find freedom, she was introduced to the London Underworld. It is a life where the newly formed police force struggled to keep a lid on the various emerging subcultures, felons and misfits among a hint of the plague. It is here that P became Jack and one of history’s most notorious and wanted thieves.
In his attempts to authenticate and unravel the hidden truths within the manuscript, Dr Voth finds himself being drawn into the world of corruption and conspiracy. It would seem that through history, there is a connection between the two characters.
This story is a slant on Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, skilfully retelling the tale, highlighting the history, the timeless need to belong, and the fascinating characters found in the era. It is, by no means, a light read, but is very hard to put down. Confessions of the Fox is a multi-layered story of adventure, love, politics, sex and crime. It is an extra-ordinary first novel.
Reviewed by Leanne Caune
Rating out of 10: 9
Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: August 2018