Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

The Tiger in the Well – Philip Pullman

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on September 25, 2009

I enjoy reading Philip Pullman. He has cemented his place in the genre of fantasy fiction with his “His Dark Material” trilogy and is an acknowledged master there. However, Pullman is not just limited to this genre. My reading of his “The Clockwork” leads me to believe that he is a very good writer of horror fiction for children. I quiet enjoyed reading this goosepimply long story for self and children many times over. As I was settling into a mental picture of the ease with which he straddles both these genres, I was surprised to see that he also has fingers in the pie of historical thrillers.” The Tiger in the Well” is the third in a series consisting of “The Ruby in the Smoke” , “The Shadow in the North” , “The Tiger in the Well”  and “The Tin Princess”. All revolve around the adventures of Sally Lockhart in 18th century England against different social settings. In fact these books have become so famous that they are also referred as Sally Lockhart series

“The Tiger in the Well” is set in the late 18th century England and is the adventure of Sally Lockhart as the resourceful unwed mother of young Harriet running a business of her own. Sally is implicated in the case of running away from a marriage that never took place and court proceedings are set against her which result in a ruling where the control of her entire property and daughter get transferred to her fictitious husband Mr.Parrish. The villainous Mr.Parrish is the front end for the evil and sinister and invalid Mr.Lee (aka Tziddik). Parrish wants to separate Harriet from Sarah and offer her to Tziddik as a slave. Through her resoursefulness and with the help of socialist Goldstein and like minded friends, Sally manages to destroy Mr.Lee and Mr.Parrish and restore the lost equanimity back in her life

As a story  “Tiger in the Well” is not very absorbing. The depth and portrayal of characters is mixed. For a while I was made to believe that Tziddik would unleash a series of sinister acts but nothing of that sort really happens and for the deeply villainous character he is made out to be, he really is not wicked at all and meets his end in a lame duck fashion without even putting a fight. There are many characters in the book who are simply there and don’t do much and as a consequence pale in their presence in the overall scheme of things of the novel. Similarly, there are many situations in the book which are tacky and artificial — I mean the whole situation of Sally storming the den of Tziddik masquerading as a servant girl was beyond my ability to believe. On these fronts I feel the book does not rise to Pullman’s fame as a writer.  However, what is really admirable about this book is the superb portrayal of the social setting against which this adventure takes place. The late 18th century London with its waves of Jewish migrants and the wicked exploitation of them, the emergence of socialist movement, the underbelly of London working class and the conditions of poverty are all extremely well done and give a wonderful glimpse of a historical phase gone by

I am divided in my views about this book and want to reserve my comments till I read atleast a couple of others in the series to get a better context of the series and also the place of this book within the series

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