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. Although most reviews are positive, some reviewers feel that Ackroyd 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!
Charles Lamb was an English essayist and co-author with his sister
Mary of the children's book
Tales from Shakespeare (1807). Both he and his sister suffered from periods of
mental illness. In 1796 Mary "worn down to a state of extreme nervous
misery by attention to needlework by day and to her mother at night" stabbed her
mother in the heart with a table knife. Charles succeeded in keeping her out of
prison by promising to take personal responsibility for her safekeeping. Charles was
friends with Wordsworth, Coleridge and acquainted with other writers of the
period such as Shelley.
This review was originally published in July 2006, and has been updated for the July 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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