We gave it a B+
The further back in time a good historical novel reaches, the more it resembles bad science fiction: The past is another planet, with cultures as pixilated as anything dreamed up by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Set in mid-18th-century England, Malcolm Bosse’s The Vast Memory of Love is a boisterous trip to a distant world.
Ned Carleton, an innocent country boy, arrives in London to seek his fortune. As a liveried coachman for the sleazy Earl of Sandwich, he prospers at first. But after two years of service, Ned is unjustly dismissed and cast into the maelstrom of the city, where, unable to find work, he becomes a street thief, eventually training a stray collie to assist him in cornering his victims.
What makes this melodramatic tale and its interlocking subplots, intrigues, and love affairs so compelling is the rich texturing that Bosse layers on. There are times, though, when his eagerness to squeeze in every last bit of research nearly buries the narrative, and times when his efforts to inform us about historical events happening simultaneously with his fictional ones become downright irritating. Not a perfect novel then, just an immensely enjoyable one. B+