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.
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).
The novel has a slightly shopworn feel...reasonable entertainment for serious Anglophiles
A psychologically rich evocation of a vanished time.
Booklist - Brad Hooper
Starred review. Marvelous, sophisticated entertainment
The ale houses, antiquarian bookshops, and seedy south side of Shakespeare's London come to life in Ackroyd's richly atmospheric tale, which entertainingly mixes the bawdy with the brainy.
The Daily Telegraph (UK) - David Robson
Peter Ackroyd's new novel, true to form, blends fiction and literary biography. I would have welcomed an afterword disentangling the fact from the fiction; but the lack of scholarly footnotes did nothing to detract from my enjoyment. The Lambs of London is a delicious entertainment, faithful to its period, but done with the lightest of touches .... Nobody knows this world better than Peter Ackroyd, and his latest foray into bygone London finds him at the top of his form.
Scotland on Sunday - Andrew Crumley
The forgery tale is an engaging one, and enough to make The Lambs of London worth reading. I only wish the Lambs themselves could have been left out of it. But I suppose Ackroyd’s publishers would not have wanted Mr London calling his new book Ireland.
The Observer (UK) - David Jays
Ackroyd's fiction isn't the place to go for facts (some, remembering the ventriloquised passages in his Dickens biography, would say the same of his non-fiction). But it is instructive reading, alongside The Devil Kissed Her Kathy Watson's empathetic but unscholarly new biography of Mary Lamb .... [Ackroyd's] antiquarian art wraps us in a world which 'seemed to breathe misery' and makes the past a yearning presence, where even forged words carry a freight of feeling.
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 January 1796 his father
published his own book about the discovered Shakespeare papers - by this time
many people had started to take an interest in the matter and the plot started
to unravel. In March 1796, Shakespeare scholar Edmond Malone published an
exhaustive critique of the materials and concluded that...
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