The blurb proclaimed the 2020 novel to be ‘a suspenseful historical mystery’ set not just in the Victorian era but actually in the royal kitchens of Queen Victoria.
What was not to like about a feel-good historical cosy mystery, with a an old-fashioned premise of an impoverished heroine’s journey? It turned out there was much. The thin plot was barely held together by unbelievable coincidences and tied up in a too neat little bow hastily towards the end. The characters were two-dimensional and forgettable, even the way Queen Victoria’s character treated the cook did not ring true to what is recorded elsewhere in history and literature about British class restrictions of the period.
The dialogue was the most painful aspect of the novel. Ordinary to begin with, it got worse with each new chapter, until each character commenced to speak in paragraphs, describing what the reader already knows, and sounding so stiflingly long-winded that more than once I had a sense of deja vu of watching Control and Tony from A Bit of Fry and Laurie. As much as I love to rewatch the Fry and Laurie sketches, I find the Control and Tony snippets a trifle annoying due to the tedious dialogue.
There is no hard and fast rule on how dialogue works in a narrative. Great literary novels have been none the worse for the use of dialect, and many page turners get away with plain speech that carries the story forward, despite most characters speaking in the same manner. It is interesting to observe how several bestsellers both literary and otherwise break the basic rules of writing, – such as telling the story rather than showing it, forfeiting the basic rules of punctuation, telling the story almost entirely in dialogue, using incomprehensible dialects and more, and like the novel alluded to above, they do it well enough to hold the attention of apparently a large number of readers.