As everyone and his brother has pointed out (including the author), Hannah Tinti’s first novel is “Dickensian”. And so it is. What with one-handed orphans, Fagan like characters, Gangs of New York like villains, grave-robbers, Widows, dwarfs, nuns and monks. Ren, of St. Anthony’s orphanage is plucked from his fate by someone who clams to be his brother. Or possibly his father. Benjamin Nab seems to have led a life they write stories about – or a life completely made up. Off into the wide world the adventures begin. Ren quickly learns that Benjamin is not all that he seems.
Just after Benjamin has stolen a horse and carriage, and Ren is beginning to understand the true nature of his “brother”, he begins to worry about God’s retribution:
…in his heart he knew God would find a way to punish him. Ren often thought of the old man as a benignly neglectful gardener, carefully snipping His roses but leaving other areas to go wild, until something caught His notice, a tendril poking its way beyond the fence, and then Hiss full wrath would come thundering down and the entire bed would be ripped out.
Set in 19th Century New England, the novel also features a Mousetrap Factory baron-villain with the worst New England accent in all of fiction – if that’s possible on the printed page. Tinti’s no-nonsense straight ahead style makes for a quick read. One might say this is a quest novel. In this case, the quest for family, security, and a place to belong in the world. The quest for identity (who am I? Where did I come from? What happened to my hand?). The quest for family, which here comes in many forms for Ren. He’s quick with his love and loyalty in his search for permanence and identity.
There are many oddly wonderful characters in Tinti’s novel, especially one ‘landlady’ (Mrs. Sands) and her dwarf brother who lives on the roof of her boardinghouse, up the chimney. Then there’s the golem giant professional hit-man with a heart of gold and several lives – perhaps even nine.
This is a novel you’ll read, be entertained by and satisfied with. It’s not one however that I’d expect to remember much of in the future. Not forgettable but not particularly memorable either.