With which do you identify most: a cup, a leaky tap, or a ball of string? Clod Iremonger was born into Heap House, an ancient abode filled with and surrounded by objects. Some of these are 'birth objects', given to all Iremongers and to be kept in their possession at all times. The family preside over the surrounding heaps, consisting of rubbished objects and detritus gathered from all around Victorian London, sorted and sifted by an army of impoverished workers. As Clod approaches manhood, he starts to hear the objects call out to him, names like 'James Henry Hayward' and 'Alice Higgs'. When he meets Lucy Penant, a tough servant girl from beyond the walls, their feelings for each other start to stir the mysterious forces at work in Heap House, and in Clod himself. After a long search for the truth, the pair find themselves seperated and abandoned in the dark filthy streets of what was once called Filching, now known by the locals only as 'Foulsham'.
Foulsham is the second book in the Iremonger trilogy, what promises to be one of the greatest trilogies in imaginative fiction for a very long time. I can't help thinking of the eccentric gothic thrills that the Gormenghast trilogy gave me years ago, and the creative twists and turns of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials (comparison could also be made between Pullman's use of animal familiars and Carey's use of object familiars). After Heap House has immersed you in the Iremonger world, Foulsham successfully picks up the momentum and pushes the story forward. There are plenty of new characters to encounter as we move from the confines of the great house to the filthy streets of Foulsham: the neurotic boarding house owner Mrs Whiting, the gaunt street-stalker known as 'The Tailor'. But the novel's greatest creation, a monster of almost Frankenstein proportions, is Binadit. Lucy discovers Binadit in the heaps, a man-creature covered, seemeingly made out of, melded dirt and rubbish. When Lucy pursuades him to leave his home and clean up his act, the heaps—in bits and pieces at first, then in torrents—start to follow him. At the gripping finale (not to give anything away) we are left with a fantastic cliffhanger and a promise of Carey's fictional universe reaching out and colliding with the real locations and figureheads of Victorian London.
Througout the Iremonger books is the sense of that real Victorian London nearby. The illustrations mimic early daguerreotype photographs. And of course London really was a place where object scavenging was big business and owners of commercial dust heaps made a lot of money having the poor sift through dangerous waste. The idea of objects having a life of their own had much prominence with the surrealists. The films of Czech animator Jan Švankmajer seem to suggest the power not only that we have over objects, but that they may come to have over us (here's one of his many short films to give you an idea.)
When imagining we, particularly as children but also as adults, are keen to identify with the creatures and objects of our environment, collecting, labelling, anthropomorphising. Is it a two way street? Do we risk allowing ourselves to gain the characteristics of our animals, our objects? If you're thinking, 'All right, but more importantly, what would my birth object be?', there's a section on Edward Carey's website where you can enter your name and date of birth to find out. Mine is a ball of string, who softly calls out the name 'Samuel Wallace Grindley... Samuel Wallace Grindley... Samuel Wallace Grindley...'