Paul T Madden

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Paul T Madden

Paul T Madden’s book reviews

Reading these old books on an iPhone or Kindle can sometimes be challenging because they are arranged in such an old fashioned way. With this one you have to navigate an introduction that more or less slates Defoe as a writer, something which is almost analogous to a critic suggesting that the war photography of Don McCullin is too hand held and not high enough quality for Vogue Magazine.

The introduction does not actually prepare you for what is to come and worse — it suggests that only children and kitchen wenches will enjoy Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe. So having navigated this scathing introduction what do we find?

Whether or not Defoe read any other accounts of the plague (and what if he had?) — please suspend your disbelief and judgement. There are no chapters, it is one intense rambling and often repetitive story of unmitigating, relentless horror — some parts of which will make you uneasy in your bed. The descriptions of the daily scenes outside Defoe's window are mesmerisingly sickening in places. Defore also honestly reveals that he is a voyeur of the grotesque and has to go to a pit at night in order to see exactly what happens to the dead. For that passage alone this is an important read.

Because I have walked all these streets writing my guide to the City of London (this is a main reason I read Defoe's account) the book has a remarkable prophetic quality, almost as if it could happen again as the medieval layout is exactly the same as it was in 1665. Defoe even says at several points words to the effect of 'If this does happen again I advise you to buy strong locks for the inside of your doors and windows and stock up on three months food, water and ale'. In fact Danny Boyle should consider making a near future filmnoir using this book as a template, he could call it '28 Decades Later'.

Defoe also discusses his own fear of death, he initially thinks too much of the pros and cons of leaving the city but then finds that the plague rages around him so fiercely he may stand a better chance of survival if he never leaves the house. He also chastises with logical force those arrogant survivors who bragged about how they 'stuck it out' and that those who left to starve for three months sleeping on leaves under a sheet in a forest were somehow — inferior human beings. At one point he describes how a few arrogant drunks mocked the dying — but were all lying in a plague pit a week later.

If you are feeling glum and unhappy with your lot, I urge you to read this book as fast as you can.

And then admire your iphone, your Kindle, your colour television, your fully fitted kitchen and your car, caravan and speedboat. Admire your fine wardrobe,the luxury of central heating and your dvd collection. Give thanks that you are not scared to walk the streets and talk to people no matter how strange because contact may kill you within an hour.

And lastly give the most almighty thanks that you are not a person living in London in August and September 1665 who was nine months pregnant. For that is the ghastliest and most heartbreaking part of this book and will destroy your selfish self pity with a snap so ferocious — it might break your neck.

Yes — its the most terrifying book I have ever read.
12/18/2013
This is a crazy crazy crazy book, a bit like reading the emails of some modern and titanic war hero (I can not think of the equivalent modern person) to a woman forty five years his junior who had memorised the Bible in order to save his soul.

Because I like the Iron Duke and have been all over Britain and photographed statues of him for my series of city guides I had to take a trip into this and I read it in bed on my iPhone in four hours.

Most of the Duke's letters over the seventeen year period are the same and follow this template :

'The Duke thanks Miss J for her letter of the (date) and wishes her to know that he did not mean any offence but as he does not understand what she means because her handwriting is almost illegible would she please please please stop writing to him'.

So why did I finish it? Because there are some amusing sections that show how Britain's greatest warrior finally realised he was being an old fool. It is therefore a warning about keeping love letters and possibly… emails from your secret admirer. The only problem in this day and age being — you can not burn emails.
12/16/2013