Summary and book reviews of The Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd

The Lambs of London

By Peter Ackroyd

The Lambs of London
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2006,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2007,
    224 pages.

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Book Summary

A tour de force in the tradition of Hawksmoor and Chatterton, Peter Ackroyd’s 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 Ireland’s 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 Ackroyd’s 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.

Chapter One

‘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 All’s Well.’ Charles Lamb rushed into the room with a thin green volume in his hand.

She turned round, smiling. She did not resist her brother’s enthusiasm; it cleared her head of the moon. ‘And is it?’

‘Is it what, dear?’

‘All’s well that ends well?’

‘I very much hope so.’ The top buttons of ...

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Reviews

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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).

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Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

The novel has a slightly shopworn feel...reasonable entertainment for serious Anglophiles

Publishers Weekly

A psychologically rich evocation of a vanished time.

Booklist - Brad Hooper

Starred review. Marvelous, sophisticated entertainment

Library Journal

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.

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Beyond the Book

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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