A tour de force in the tradition of Hawksmoor and Chatterton, Peter Ackroyds new novel of deceit and betrayal is a witty reimagining of a great nineteenth-century Shakespeare forgery.
Charles and Mary Lamb, who will achieve lasting fame as the authors of Tales from Shakespeare For Children, are still living at their parents home. Charles, an aspiring writer bored stiff by his job as a clerk at the East India Company, enjoys a drink or three too many each night at the local pub. His sister, Mary, is trapped in domesticity, caring for her ailing, dotty father and her maddening mother. The siblings enchantment with Shakespeare provides a much-needed escape, and they delight in reading and quoting the great bard. When William Ireland, an ambitious young antiquarian bookseller, comes into their lives claiming to possess a lost Shakespearean play, the Lambs can barely contain their excitement. As word of the amazing find spreads, scholars and actors alike beat a path to Irelands door, and soon all of London is eagerly anticipating opening night of a star-studded production of the play.
The perfect, lighthearted follow-up to Ackroyds magnificent biography of Shakespeare, The Lambs of London transforms the real-life literary hoax into an ingenious, intriguing drama that will keep readers guessing right to the end.
I loathe the stench of horses. Mary Lamb walked over to the window, and
touched very lightly the faded lace fringe of her dress. It was a dress of the
former period that she wore unembarrassed, as if it were of no consequence how
she chose to cover herself. The city is a great jakes. There was no one in the
drawing-room with her, so she put her face upwards, towards the sun. Her skin
was marked by the scars of smallpox, suffered by her six years before; so she
held her face to the light, and imagined it to be the pitted moon.
I have found it, dear. It was hiding in Alls Well. Charles Lamb rushed into the room with a thin green volume in his hand.
She turned round, smiling. She did not resist her brothers enthusiasm; it cleared her head of the moon. And is it?
Is it what, dear?
Alls well that ends well?
I very much hope so. The top buttons of ...
Ackroyd blends fact, fiction and a little bit of mystery in his entertaining new novel following the success of Shakespeare (2005), in which he returns to the territory of
literary plagerism that he first explored in Chatterton. The only major frustration is that he plays a little too fast and lose with the facts (for example, he bumps Mary off 43 years earlier than she actually died, and
there is no historical evidence that William Ireland and the Lambs were ever in contact, let alone that Mary was romantically infatuated with Ireland).
Questions such as these could have been cleared up with the use of an author's note explaining where fact ends and fiction starts but all Ackroyd offers is a single comment stating that what he has written is "not a biography but a work
of fiction", in which he has "changed the life of the Lamb family for the sake of the larger narrative". In actual fact, the larger narrative is barely about the Lambs at all - it is as if Ackroyd set out to fictionalize their lives but
got carried away with the more entertaining subplot!
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (586 words).
William Henry Ireland was born in London in 1777. His father, Samuel
Ireland, was a successful publisher of travelogues and collector of antiquities.
At an early age William became a collector of books and while apprenticed to a
mortgage lawyer he started to experiment with forgery - forging signatures on
genuinely old paper.
In 1794 he claimed to have discovered an old deed with Shakespeare's signature on it - he presented said document to his overjoyed father, and over a period of time proceeded to make more finds relating to Shakespeare. In about 1795, at the tender age of 18, Ireland produced a whole new Shakespeare play, Vortigern and Rowena and sold the rights to the Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. In...
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