Mudlark: In Search of London’s Past Along the River Thames

Liveright: Norton. Nov. 2019. 336p. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781631494963. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631494970. NAT HIST
The sense of discovery, of finding forgotten objects, is captured superbly in Maiklem’s debut. The author’s hobby is roving along various parts of the tidal River Thames in search of artifacts. Much like its cousin archaeology, mudlarking is comprised of both the search for interesting items followed by the process of identifying the object through research. Of course, being found in a river, the context of the piece—a key component of archaeology—is lost. She and her fellow enthusiasts have discovered in this pastime snippets of London’s history that, when patched together, form a compelling narrative of both its natural and its human history. From long discarded oyster shells to 18th-century police uniform buttons, the items she finds encourage her to research the people behind the artifacts. For example, finding a well-preserved bottle near where prison hulks were once moored leads Maiklem to learn that one of her ancestors was a prisoner on one of the ships bound for the penal colony in Australia.
VERDICT Maiklem positions the River Thames as a narrator, which only offers up some of its stories in a piecemeal fashion. The parts that are revealed, however, make for a captivating read.

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