Profound inequality

The Streets, by Anthony Quinn, Jonathan Cape, RRP£14.99, 272 pages

In 1882, David Wildeblood leaves his home in Norfolk to take up a job in London with newspaper editor Henry Marchmont, whose surveys of urban poverty are required reading for the chattering classes. As David investigates the dilapidated housing in Somers Town, he befriends its inhabitants and becomes impatient with Marchmont’s laisser-faire politics. Teaming up with the investigative reporter Paget, he resolves to take on the landlords who grow rich off the slums.

The Streets, Anthony Quinn’s third novel, is a delightful Dickensian romp: the brisk narrative is filled with vivid evocations of the Victorian capital and a cast of memorable characters, from Jo, David’s impecunious pal, to Sprule, a bumptious social Darwinist. The social commentary is a little didactic, but raises questions that resonate today; we read Quinn on the profound inequality of 19th-century London (“the beggar and the banker rub along cheek by jowl”) and reflect that some things never change.

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