Michael Irwin's The Skull and the Nightingale is a chilling and deliciously dark, literary novel of manipulation and sex, intrigue and seduction, set in 18th-century England.
When Richard Fenwick returns to London, his wealthy godfather, James Gilbert, has an unexpected proposition. Gilbert has led a sedate life in Worcestershire, but feels the urge to experience, even vicariously, the extremes of human feeling: love, passion, and something much more sinister.
It becomes apparent that Gilbert desires news filled with tales of carousing, flirtation, excess, and London's more salacious side. But Gilbert's elaborate and manipulative "experiments" into the workings of human behavior soon drag Richard into a Faustian vortex of betrayal and danger where lives are ruined and tragedy is only a step away.
With echoes of Dangerous Liaisons, Michael Irwin's The Skull and the Nightingale is an urgent period drama that seduces the senses.
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"Using language that resonates with the music and manners of the time, Irwin, a Fielding scholar, contrasts pastoral and graphic scenes, proper and pornographic passages, and high-minded theory and base practice." - Publishers Weekly
"This novel of manipulation and seduction evokes Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's classic Les Liaisons Dangereuses... [and] vividly renders the darker side of the Age of Enlightenment. Readers who like their history served up with conquest and betrayal will enjoy this page-turner." - Library Journal
"Starred Review. Amid Irwin's spot-on descriptions of 18-century England's squalor and splendor, the masquerades and dinner parties, this passion play mostly rests between the sheets where Lust lies... Irwin's secondary characters also fascinate... A tale of morals, intriguingly told." - Kirkus Reviews
"I really admired and enjoyed it. The atmosphere, idiom and characters are great. The plotting is terrific. And I had a genuine shock at the end." - Jenny Uglow, author of The Lunar Men
"Richard Fenwick is a dashing, good-looking rake in the tradition of Boswell, William Hickey, Tom Jones and Roderick Random, and his fast-moving adventures among the pubs and petticoats have a twist in the tail that is startling and well worth waiting for." - Jeremy Lewis, author of Shades of Greene: One Generation of an English Family
"A dark, compelling tale of an eighteenth-century Faustus and his Mephistopheles, which troubles the reader with a growing unease from the start and never slackens pace right up to its disturbing conclusion." - Maria McCann, author of As Meat Loves Salt and The Wilding
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Michael Irwin is an emeritus professor of English literature at the University of Kent in Canterbury, where he specialized in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature. His published work includes a full-length study of Fielding and essays on Defoe, Richardson, Sterne, Smollett, Johnson, and Pope. He lives in Kent, England.
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