Marie’s Reading: “My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time” by Liz Jensen

dirty little bookIt’s about a 19th-century Danish prostitute with a time machine.

What else do you really need to know?


If you followed me this far I’ll count you intrigued.

My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time is a tour de force of bawdiness, old-timey literary devices, and Pynchon Level reference dropping.  Our narrator is Charlotte, a prostitute who lives in 1897 Copenhagen.  She and her “lumpen sidekick,” Fru Schleswig (who might or might not be Charlotte’s mother),  get work as housekeepers in the spooky mansion of Fru Krak.  There are rumors that the basement is haunted, and that Fru Krak’s husband, the mysterious Professor Krak, was conducting very strange experiments down there.

The rumors turn out to be true.  Upon investigating the dark basement, Charlotte and Fru Schleswig find themselves thrown through time to 21st century London, where the real adventure begins.  There’s intrigue, there’s romance, there’s passion, there’s a rollicking good time, and there is a happy ending.

Don’t take this book too seriously.  It’s not a historical novel, it’s not a science fiction novel, it’s not a parody novel.  It just is what it is: a fun romp about a prostitute with a time machine.  Also a time-traveling orangutan.

Check out Liz Jensen’s other books if you enjoy this one.  Every book of hers has a unique voice and a unique premise.  The Ninth Life of Louis Drax (the story of a strange and brilliant boy in a deep coma) or The Uninvited (about a chilling world-wide epidemic of children committing murder) might both be good choices.  Laurence Sterne leaps to mind as a good readalike, too.  Try his The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, a genre and form bending comedy classic.   

You might also give Thomas Pynchon a whirl–try Mason & Dixon, a fictionalized version of the story of the British surveyors behind the Mason-Dixon Line.  The constant onslaught of references, as well as the time travel aspect, reminded me very much of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next adventures.  The first is The Eyre Affair.  I’d also suggest Robert Nye’s bawdy and fun The Late Mr. Shakespeare, a fictional memoir by an elderly man who, in his youth, was a player in Shakespeare’s troupe–and originated just about every great female role in Shakespeare’s plays.

Pym by Mat Johnson, about a recently unemployed professor obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel, might be a good readalike choice.  It’s got the same level of zaniness and fun ridiculousness, which all still somehow make entertaining sense.  I wrote a blog post about it, which you can find here.


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