The Sawdust House
Publication date: 29th March 2022
Genre: Historical fiction
Format read: Paperback
Source: Courtesy of the publisher via Beauty & Lace Book Club
The Sawdust House is a fictionalised story based on the life of bare-knuckle boxer James Sullivan also known as Yankee Sullivan.
David Whish-Wilson uses artistic license to add details and change names. His writing is old worldly and poetic.
The story is written in a conversational manner as Thomas Crane, the newspaperman, talks with Sullivan about his life as Sullivan awaits sentence in a San Francisco prison, caught up in the great San Franciscan purge of criminals and corrupt officials, 1856.
Crane asks Sullivan questions and Sullivan's replies form the story of his life. At times Sullivan turns the tables on Crane and asks him about his life. Crane tells of growing up as a Mormon, the harsh times in Missouri and move to Salt Lake Valley.
I loved how Whish-Wilson portrays Sullivan, talking as if he was always the innocent, because this is exactly how I would imagine he would narrate his own story.
Through Sullivan's life story we get a sense of what life was like for the poorer people during the 1800's. Firstly in Cork then in London, as a street urchin. t then moves to the unrest that was sweeping America at the time.
I would have liked more on Sullivan's time as a convict in Australia and the work they did and more on his daily life living in New York.
At only 300 pages, and many of those pages with only a sentence or two, it's quite a short read.
I was fascinated by this story of courage and resilience and I would have liked it to be more fleshed out.
David Whish-Wilson talks about his extensive research, in the end notes, which is definitely reflected in the story.
The Sawdust House is a poignant tale of the cruelty of man against man, the overwhelming will to live, the rise to fame and the crushing blow of that final defeat. Not just for boxing fans!
My rating 4 / 5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐
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