Some of Ackroyd's books are wonderful (Hawksmoor and his biographies of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens); I struggle with others. This novel avoids the time shifting and mysticism of The House of Doctor Dee and tells a straightforward tale (based on historical fact) ) of literary forgery; a theme he has previously covered in Chatterton. William Henry Ireland, to please his bookseller father, 'discovers' papers in Shakespeare's hand including fragments of poetry, a love letter to Anne Hathaway complete with a lock of hair, and a missing play, Vortigern. As he grows bolder, the doubts about the authenticity of his forgeries grows; Ackroyd provides some beautifully subtle dialogue which hints the the speaker has doubts while never making it obvious.
This story is interwoven with the equally true story of Mary Lamb who lives with brother Charles and, stifled by the limits imposed upon her by her mother, goes mad.
So the theme of the book is the irrational responses of children to the expectations created by their parents: R. D. Laing would have loved the argument.
The book is carefully written. Mary's father suffers from dementia and makes comments from time to time which sometimes seem to be full of wisdom but this reader was always unsure whether or not they referred to the action of the novel, or the subtext, or neither. This left me somewhat unsettled which was probably eactly what the author intended. There were occasions when he seemed to quote from other books that had not been written at the time of the action, so this was even more interesting. Mary's mother is wonderful for inserting the mundane into dialogue ("Tizzy! More hot water.") which keeps conversations from getting too serious, makes them seem more realistic and emphasises her role as the guardian of the everyday which is exactly what is driving Mary mad. And when Actor-Manager Sheridan turns up he is the model of a thespian, a practitioner, sir, of the sacred art which belongs to the muses Thalia and Melpomene.
This was an easy to read and very enjoyable entertainment. November 2014; 216 pages
- I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57