“The truth doesn’t get you very far on the streets…”
As the title suggests, life is difficult for antagonist Jim Jarvis. Despite enjoying a lovely pie in chapter one, things quickly take a dark turn for young Jim and he soon finds himself in a Victorian work house. I should mention that the novel is set in the 1860s, Jim doesn’t time travel to the work house, he just walks there. From there, he faces increasingly dark and troubled times culminating in infanticide and squalor. Uplifting stuff.
There is a long and proud literary tradition of introducing orphans into a novel and then having them suffer in a variety of monstrous ways. Street Child embraces this trope to such a huge degree that it does, at times, accidentally stray into parody. One of Jim’s litany of antagonists is so incontrovertibly evil that he would make Nurse Ratched blush. He feeds Jim scraps of rotten meat out of his pocket and trains a dog to attack him should he try to escape. That kind of thing. He’s a bit like Bill Sykes grouchier, older brother. I realised upon writing this that I imagine Bill Sykes, Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights and also this guy from Street Child to all look exactly the same. A bit like Cain Dingle from Emmerdale as a matter of fact. I think I’m a little sleep deprived at the moment. Just like Jim Jarvis incidentally.
Street Child is nicely written and has a simple, emotive style that makes for a rewarding novel. The plot my seem familiar but, all joking aside, it reflects a truth that many children struggled with during the Victoria era and the fact that it is based on a real story only strengthens this view.
If not for work, I would never have read Street Child and, while it is certainly more suited to a younger audience, there is still enough of an emotional journey to make Berlie Doherty’s novel enjoyable to adults as well.