Katharine Grant’s debut in adult fiction, Sedition, is a tantalising, transgressive tale of sex, music, love and London. Grant makes an explosive entrance into the genre: this novel is not to be overlooked. The blurb is positively delicious, and immediately had me hooked:
‘London 1794… seduction and sensation, insurrection and initiation, deceit and delicacy, subversion and sedition.’
Grant notes that her five times great uncle was the last person in the UK to be hung drawn and quartered; the macabre legacy of her family seems to have infected her work. The stench of the French revolution reeks from across the channel, and Grant’s London is corrupt and dangerous.
If this novel were a film, it would be distinctly Tim Burton-esque. With a mixture of dark hilarity, the text conjures a shady, odd, and outrageously bawdy vision of the city, populated by a cast of distinctively quirky characters. These range from Annie, the unfortunately disfigured, musically talented daughter of an instrument-maker, to the fiercely independent and beautiful Alathea, who uses people as she pleases. The notable female presence is no surprise in a novel published by Virago (publishers of books for and about women); the independence and strength of the female heroines drives the novel in wildly unexpected directions.
The tale begins with a rather perplexed city speculator’s purchase of a pianoforte from Annie’s father, an unpleasant man with a disinclination to sell any of his creations. The pianoforte is required by the speculator and his associates in order to prepare their five daughters for a concert; an event designed to sell them off in marriage to any titled male who might desire them. Following the dubious advice of Annie’s father, they proceed to hire a piano teacher (a young French fellow, no less). However, this plan is not as straightforward as it might seem… Nothing is certain in the subversive streets of London: jealousy, greed, seduction and deception are rife.
Sedition follows the trials and tribulations of the girls, as they embark on an educational journey that is not strictly musical. The humorous observations of Monsieur Belladroit, as he assesses his five pupils, are particularly enjoyable. It would appear Alathea is the only one of the five who is truly desirable, what with Everina’s ill-fitting false teeth, Marianne’s disappointing hair, Harriet’s round nose and Georgiana’s skeletal frame.
Although the content of Sedition can be incredibly dark, the narration is consistently amusing, written with a tongue-in-cheek tone that never fails to entertain, in deliciously unexpected ways. The language employed by Grant throughout the text is rich and varied, without weighing down the story, making reading Sedition a heady, sensual experience. However, this novel is not just a tale of hilarity and licentious relations, it is also a story about music and meaningful relationships.
Although I felt there were certain slow points in the novel, it was never enough for me to put the book down for long. The narrative clatters to a close at a full-blown gallop. All in all, Sedition’s wonderfully eclectic collection of characters, and Grant’s weaving together of the excitement and passion of music and sex with the tedium of respectful middle-class society makes for an outrageously dazzling cocktail.
I look forward to Grant’s future work in adult fiction, and highly recommend this read! Sedition has earned itself a solid 4 out of 5, from me.