Book Review: Yellow Jack

Yellow Jack

Josh Russell

WW Norton & Company

250 pages

Today marks exactly two weeks until my wedding and since I am getting married in New Orleans, I decided to spend these two weeks focused on literature set in NO.  Yellow Jack was my first pick and boy was it a good one!

I chose Yellow Jack for one reason, besides the fact that it is based in NO. The reason is because it’s about a pestilence–for whatever reason that fascinates me.  In reality, “yellow jack” played a role in the book, but it involved so much more. 

Claude Marchand is studying under Daguerre in Europe when the two of them discover the daguerreotype–pretty much the first form of photography.  Because I am a novice to the process, I will quote my good friend Wikipedia:

The image in a Daguerreotype is formed by amalgam i.e. a combination of mercury and silver. Mercury vapor from a pool of heated mercury is used to develop the plate that consists of a copper plate with a thin coating of silver rolled in contact that has previously been sensitised to light with iodine vapour so as to form silver iodide crystals on the silver surface of the plate.

Exposure times were later reduced by using bromine to form silver bromide crystals.

The image is formed on the surface of the silver plate that looks like a mirror. It can easily be rubbed off with the fingers and will oxidise in the air, so from the outset daguerreotypes were mounted in sealed cases or frames with a glass cover.

The image in a Daguerreotype is formed by amalgam i.e. a combination of mercury and silver. Mercury vapor from a pool of heated mercury is used to develop the plate that consists of a copper plate with a thin coating of silver rolled in contact that has previously been sensitised to light with iodine vapour so as to form silver iodide crystals on the silver surface of the plate.

Exposure times were later reduced by using bromine to form silver bromide crystals.

The image is formed on the surface of the silver plate that looks like a mirror. It can easily be rubbed off with the fingers and will oxidise in the air, so from the outset daguerreotypes were mounted in sealed cases or frames with a glass cover.

When viewing the daguerreotype, a dark surface is reflected into the mirrored silver surface, and the reproduction of detail in sharp photographs is very good, partly because of the perfectly flat surface.

Marchand decides to flee Europe and when he travels to New Orleans, he introduces the dagguereotype, which he renames “soliotype”, and opens a studio.  Many of the soliotypes Marchand does are “memorials”, meaning that they are done after death.  I had heard a bit about that before reading Yellow Jack, but I hadn’t realized how popular it was! According to the book, many people didn’t even have their picture taken at all during their life–only after death.  I did a Google image search and apparently the prevalence of memorial dagguereotypes is true, because I found a TON. 

So anyway, obviously the city is being plagued, literally, and the morbidity of life back then is all too real to Marchand, but there is more to the book than that.  Marchand is caught in a love triagnle between Millicent, a gritty street girl, and Vivian, who was born into the lap of luxury.  Marchand seems to value them based on their social status–he treats Millicent like crap while he worships Vivian, yet he seems to be in love with both of them.  The novel is very erotic and the love triangle between Claude, Vivian and Millicent is intriguing.

Yellow Jack is full of so many intricacies, that I feel like I have only touched on a small part of the book.  The format was conducive to the novel and made it more readable.  It switched back and forth between Marchand and is point of view, Millicent’s diary entries and excerpts from a modern history book.  If you enjoy historical fiction but are looking for something different, check this book out!

Other Reviews:

None that I could fine!

I borrowed this book from my local library.

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3 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by New Book Reviews. New Book Reviews said: Book Review: Yellow Jack: Yellow Jack Josh Russell WW Norton & Company 250 pages Today marks exactl… http://bit.ly/c6bAUS #books #writing […]

  2. I can’t believe you can concentrate enough to read a book like that and blog two weeks before your wedding! The book sounds fascinating!

  3. I hadn’t heard of this one but it really sounds like something I would enjoy–well as much as one can enjoy a book about pestilence!

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