The England that England wants to forget.
Sarah Wise accurately delivers what her Communist character wishes to reveal to the Anarchist one at the very beginning of the book The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum. The worst face of poverty in the East End of London during the last decades of the 19th century is opened up to us through a detailed and revolving exposition of facts wisely mixed with a simple but effective story.
Words like grey, smoke, chimneys, damp, hunger... help us visualise the disgust we need to feel to understand the truth. Gross smells, crammed dirty spaces, ducks, donkeys and cows sharing rooms with families, a child corpse on the floor... all that is the texture of the everyday life in the Old Nichol, a now-forgotten place that the author wants to be remembered exactly as it was.
Without knowing our past, we cannot understand our present and therefore, make the future a better era.
It is the appendix what elevates the work to a masterpiece. The prose is indeed readable, but all those facts leave us the horrific sensation that we need to get imbued by that insalubrious reality. Since the first table, I understood what a valuable history book I was reading, and the sadness I felt, made me know the craft-perfection between archival work and fiction. Every single time I needed more, there it was.
Either when I am reading or when I am writing, something tells me I need more facts to complete the understanding of the piece, but at the same time, something else tells me that that would be too much, and my imagination should fill those gaps. Wise enough, Sarah does not listen to those voices -that I might call "my-insecurity-that-nobody-else-has"-, and satisfies that need of completing the information with archival material, maps, tables and other certainties.
Britain, today, to make the right future decisions, needs to understand better their present, scrupulously knowing their past. They should take a moment, and make read this book to the entire nation.
We have nothing if we do not have Truth, and Sarah Wise awards us with the truest truth about that England that England wants to forget.