REVIEW: The Sins of the Cities of the Plain (Jack Saul)

51FpsOfuV2L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Encapsulate the book in one sentence?

Filth!

Intriguing, tell me more.

Victorian filth!

Personal Choice, Book-Pot, Re-read…?

Personal choice, because we all know my yen for Victorian stories, let alone smutty gay Victorian stories. I came across this thanks to the brilliant Whores of Yore twitter account, and was then pleased to discover that the best edition of the text had been released by Valancourt. And they say variety is the spice of life, so going from Fangirl to this… well, let’s just say it led to some odd dreams.

What genre would you say it is?

So, this is a semi-fictional account of the life of a young ‘Mary-Ann’ in Victorian London, telling the story of his formative sexual experiences, on into his career as a prostitute and the various sexual adventures and misadventures he gets up to, taking in some of the real features of gay Victoriana, such as Cleveland Street and the Hundred Guineas Club. Although it has the faintest sheen of bildungsroman, this is basically exquisitely written one-handed fiction. And it’s fucking brilliant.

Did you finish it? Did it work for you?

It’s pretty short, so it doesn’t take too long to read it. I read Part I late at night, and Part II in the morning. It’s a book that lends itself to being read in the dark hours.

I really enjoyed it. I’m not a huge afficionado of erotica unless it’s particularly well-written, but this is. The prose is purple and engorged to the point of absurdity, but it’s also rich and entertaining. The various couplings (and groupings!) are frequently preposterous, but they’re also salacious and steamy, and it has such an unrepentant tone of decadence and smut that it’s impossible not to love it.

What surprises did it hold – if any?

That is was even published! Whilst, yes, there have been several censored versions, what makes Sins so remarkable is the unapologetic explicitness of the text in an era that so utterly rejected homosexuality. Quite aside from it’s erotic qualities, it casts Saul in the light of the rebel hero, fearless shining as a beacon of sexual freedom amidst the buttoned-up gloom of the 19th century.

What scene will stay with you? What character will stay with you?

Naughty! That would reveal rather too much about me to tell you exactly which scene stayed with me, wouldn’t it?

Give me a good quote:

“Saul. Jack Saul, sir, of Lisle Street, Leicester Square, and ready for a lark with a free gentleman at any time.”

(Alright, so this is a very clean quote. If you want something dirtier, buy the book. But there’s something about this particular quote that has the ring of the iconic…)

Is it available today?

The best (i.e. accurate to the original printing, and thus not censored or altered) is available from Valancourt Books. On which note, I’m going to take a moment to say how much I love Valancourt. They put out brilliant lost gems and they do a great job. (And next year they are reprinting Philip Ridley’s adult novels, which I’m looking forward to.)

Soundtrack of choice: 

How’s about I Never Woke Up In Handcuffs Before from the Sherlock Holmes soundtrack?

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