Posts Tagged ‘prostitution’


In 19780s Deptford, widower and merchant Jonah Hancock is shocked to discover that the captain of his trading ships has traded the ship for what seems to be a mermaid. As news of the mermaid spreads through the community, Mr Hancock is catapulted into high society, where he meets the beautiful and notorious Angelica Neal. The scene is set for a tumultuous journey for both of them…

I honestly wasn’t expecting too much of this book when I picked it up, but I reasoned that I had bought it, so something about it must have attracted me. (It does have a most beautiful cover, so it could have been that!) Actually though, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s definitely slow in pace, but for me that was a bonus as it gave me chance to savour the beautiful and luscious writing.

I never felt much for Mr Hancock, and did not particularly like Angelica at first, although my feelings towards her did change and become more positive. The mysticism of the mermaid combines with the gritty reality of life in a shipping town, and focuses a lot on how inhabitants of brothels live their lives, and it is all described wonderfully.

The book is split into three sections and the third section was my favourite, but I enjoyed the whole thing. If there was one niggle, I would have liked to have known more about certain characters (Polly for example) and what the outcome of their stories was. Otherwise though, this is an example of an original story with wonderful writing.

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Set in London in 1870, and based on the novel by Michael Faber, this mini-series tells the story of Sugar (Romola Garai), an East End prostitute who becomes the obsession of entrepreneur William Rackham (Chris O’Dowd).  William’s wife Agnes (Amanda Hale) is suffering with her mental health, and he finds solace in Sugar’s company, to the point of paying for exclusive use of her services.  As the series progresses, William and Sugar’s relationship becomes more complicated.  Meanwhile, Agnes is desperate to escape the abuse she is suffering at home at the hands of her husband and her doctor (Richard E. Grant), and comes to believe that Sugar is her guardian angel.

I love period drama, and this one certainly did not disappoint, but be warned – Downton Abbey it isn’t!  The seedy side of Sugar’s life, where she makes her home amongst the prostitutes and drunks of London is extremely well depicted, and you can almost smell the urine and vomit.  There is also some graphic nudity (Chris O’Dowd leaves nothing to the imagination in one scene), and some fairly explicit sex scenes.

If that doesn’t bother you and you are a fan of period drama, then you should really watch this series.  The acting is wonderful – Romola Garai continues to prove her versatility, showing Sugar as tough, intelligent, and also compassionate despite her circumstances.  Chris O’Dowd turns in an unexpectedly wonderful performance (unexpected only because it is so unlike anything else I have seen him do).  Gillian Anderson is a minor character in the story, but certainly makes the most of her part as the madam of the brothel where Sugar works.  She was virtually unrecognisable, and a thousand times removed from some of her more famous roles, such as Scully in The X-Files.  As the tragic Agnes Rackham, Amanda Hale is heartbreakingly fantastic.

The story is complex with loads of twists and turns – more happens in each one hour episode than often happens in films twice the length, but it is easy to follow, and certainly never boring.  Sometimes it makes for uncomfortable viewing, but it is always compelling.

Year of release: 2011

Director: Marc Munden

Producers: Daniel Proulx, Lorraine Richard, Lucy Richer, Ed Rubin, Joanie Blaikie, Julie Clark, Greg Dummett, Martha Fernandez, Steve Lightfoot, David M. Thompson

Writers: Michael Faber (book), Lucinda Coxon

Main cast: Romola Garai, Chris O’Dowd, Amanda Hale, Shirley Henderson, Katie Lyons, Richard E. Grant, Gillian Anderson

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This is quite an appealing, but badly dated film, starring Ginger Rogers and Joel McCrea, neither of who are in the kind of role for which they were famous (Rogers isn’t dancing and McCrea isn’t being a cowboy). Rogers plays Ellie May Adams, a young girl who falls in love with young beach cafe owner Ed Wallace, and is desperate to hide her family from him, because her father is an alcoholic, and her mother is a prostitute (this is never explicitly stated, but is very clearly implied). However, she cannot keep her two worlds seperate for long…

The acting by Ginger Rogers in this film was really quite revelatory. She is obviously best known for her dancing, especially with Fred Astaire, but this film (as well as Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman) shows that she had a real talent for dramatic acting. Joel McCrea is less convincing, but his performance is still fine for the role he plays.

The storyline did move a little fast – no sooner had Ellie May met Ed than she was declaring her love for him, and twisting his arm into marrying her – and it all feels a little ‘cramped’ somehow. It’s not often that I think a film could benefit from being longer, but this is a case where a little extra time spent on the early relationship between the two main parts would have benefitted the story.

Supporting roles were played by Marjorie Rambeau, as Ellie May’s mother (she was excellent, and won an Oscar nomination for her portrayal), a surprisingly sympathetic character; Miles Mander, as ELlie May’s educated alcoholic father; Joan Carroll as Honeybell, Ellie May’s little sister; Queenie Vassar as Ellie May’s cruel, spiteful and altogether horrible grandmother; and Henry Travers as Gramp – the kindly elderly man who first introduces Ellie May and Ed.

I do not think that this film has aged particularly well – some of the characters are stereotyped, and a lot of the smart wisecracks made by Ellie May do seem obviously scripted (which of course they were, but the film never quite lets you forget that). Nonetheless, it’s worth seeing for Ginger Rogers’ performance, and overall it’s fairly entertaining, if slightly predictable.

Year of release: 1940

Director: Gregory La Cava

Writers: Robert L. Buckner (play), Walter Hart (play), Victoria Lincoln (novel), Gregory La Cava, Allan Scott

Main cast: Ginger Rogers, Joel McCrea, Henry Travers, Marjorie Rambeau, Miles Mander, Queenie Vassar

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London 1940, and Pyke, hero (of sorts) of this series is in debtors jail, having squandered his fortune.  His erstwhile friend Fitzroy Tilling – now a senior figure in the New Police, makes Pyke an offer – he will let him get out of prison early, if Pyke will investigate the murder of a mixed-race woman whose mutilated body has been found in one of the rougher areas of London.  A wealthy aristocrat has also been murdered and all of the Police Force’s energies are being used to solve that matter, hence the reason that Tilling has called Pyke in.

Pyke accepts the job, but quickly realises that there is far more to the case than it initially appears.  His investigation takes him from smog-filled London, to the beautiful plains of Jamaica, as he uses all of his cunning, intelligence, and often violence and threats, to unravel the story.

Meanwhile, Pyke’s son Felix is now 10 years old, but these days he seems to be resentful and rebellious towards his father, and Pyke desperately wants to repair their relationship.  A murder investigation can only hamper his efforts due to the amount of his time he invests, but he is determined to solve the mystery.

This is the third book in the Pyke series.  It isn’t necessary to have read the preceding two books, although it helps as Pyke’s character is developed throughout the stories.  Here, he is in a more contemplative mood as he gets older and considers the results that his actions may have on his son.  However, he has lost none of his tendency to violence and intimidation – but he does seem to have a more sharpened sense of right and wrong, and seems to judge himself more harshly.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, but the second one was something of a disappointment (though still a good read) with it’s over-complicated story.  This book is a return to form.  While there are plenty of twists, turns, red herrings and dead ends, the story is a lot tighter than the events of ‘The Revenge of Captain Paine’ (book 2),and I found it a to be a great story.

As always, London’s atmosphere is brought to life, and I also enjoyed the description of the Jamaica plains.  The part of the story set in Jamaica was probably my favourite part – Pyke encounters hostility from the recently emancipated former black slaves, and finds himself questioning his own beliefs.  Andrew Pepper always seems able to provide plenty of description while never letting go of the story itself.  The ending of the story came as a real shock, and I certainly could not have predicted what would happen.

As well from Pyke himself, there are the usual dangerous underworld criminals, and Pyke’s family and friends.  He is the only really developed character, but the character of Felix is starting to grow nicely and I hope that he will feature in the ensuing books in the series.

Not one for the faint hearted, this is a fast moving and sometimes gruesome story which delves into the world of prostitution and illegal pornography.  There is a great murder mystery as the main thread of the book, and I would certainly recommend this book to fans of crime thrillers.

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This book tells the story of Pan Yuliang, a young Chinese orphan girl, who in 1913, when she is 14 years old, is sold by her opium addicted, heavily in debt uncle, to a brothel in Wuhu.  After spending two horrific years at the brothel, under the watchful eye of the manager, known as Godmother, Yuliang manages to escape when a young Government Official named Pan Zanhua, rescues her and takes her away.  Yuliang discovers that she has a flair for painting, and wants to cultivate her new found talent. However, she discovers that she is living in dangerous times for a female artist who wants to push boundaries…

I enjoyed this book very much.  Pan Yuliang was a real person, but this book is not intended so much as a biography, as a novel based on Yuliang’s life.  The writing is beautiful – as artistic and enjoyable as the work of Yuliang herself. The main character is entirely believable – portrayed as a woman in conflict with the traditional standards of the society she lives in, but who also loves her country very much. While she is not always portrayed as a likeable person, she is always deserving of admiration, and I found it impossible not to root for her.

This is the first full length novel from Jennifer Cody Epstein, and it is eloquently written.  It manages to be descriptive, yet never boring.  The story moves along at a fair pace, but never feels hurried.  I will await more work by this author, with great interest.

(NB: My copy of this book is called The Painter of Shanghai, but it also appears to have been widely published under the name The Painter from Shanghai).

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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