Derby Day

Written by DJ Taylor
Review by Doug Kemp

Any reader who likes the gentle and considered narratives of the novels of Trollope or Thackeray should enjoy this work of fiction. Indeed some of the minor characters share names which have been used by Anthony Trollope in his own works. The author has written a number of highly acclaimed historical novels, and this is another impressive book.

It is set in a recognisably Victorian England of around 1860-1870, with a rich cast of living characters that the reader gets to know very well during the course of the story. It is a tale of human frailty, selfishness, duplicity and goodness. But like Trollope’s own villains, no-one is unremittingly evil, though if anyone can be considered to be the villain of the piece then it is perhaps the young and rather enigmatic Miss Rebecca Gresham, daughter of an ageing barrister. She is courted by and agrees to marry Gerald Happerton, a man who is not really a gentleman but who is able to ingratiate himself into the lives of others and has a number of shady and criminal schemes to make himself a rich man. These focus upon his ownership of the highly regarded horse, Tiberius, a candidate for the prestigious Derby at Epsom, and the cast of characters interested in this tale.

The plot has numerous tales and meandering stories to impart, which eventually all merge on the day of the race. It is a day when Nemesis, in various ways, strikes hard; but those who deserve good fortune are looked after by fate.