MixedTimes Literary SupplementThe reader might be forgiven for groaning at the publication of yet another book about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor...It must be said that there is very little in Andrew Lownie’s briskly written and compulsively readable account that will not be familiar to the addicts...There is Wallis Simpson’s hypnotic but still not quite comprehensible hold over the little Prince, from almost the moment they met at a party in 1931; and her bizarre emotional history, including her affair with the German ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop, who sent her seventeen carnations a day in acknowledgement of the number of times they had slept together...There is Edward VIII’s determination to marry her, despite her previous two marriages and the monogamous teaching of the Church of England; their exile in France after his abdication in 1936; the dodgy friends...We read of the unquestionable links with Nazis, among them Edward’s cousins, and of the late escape from France after the German invasion...Lownie sticks strictly to the story of Edward and Mrs Simpson, and is never tempted to draw parallels with more recent times...There will probably be no other reader of the book with my cheap mentality, who finds any resemblances between a fundamentally stupid British prince marrying an American divorcée and laying down his royal duties, while at the same time wanting to hang on to all the privileges and wealth that went with his former position; or with a prince rich as Croesus whingeing about money and \'writing\' a vengeful memoir to bring in yet more millions...If any reader were vulgar enough to allow these thoughts to flicker across their mind, it would at least remind them that, however preposterously selfish the modern equivalents may be, they are not actually Nazis...One Nazi uniform worn as a tactless joke at a party doesn’t make a Parteitag.
PanThe Spectator (UK)Keneally takes us on a rather plodding journey through Plorn’s early life ... The difficulty about concentrating on all this stuff is that Plorn was a tiny child when his parents’ marriage broke up and had no direct memory of any of it. Keneally adds to his problems by making Plorn totally ignorant of his father’s books ... Keneally gives Plorn his first experience of sex, with an older woman. It is described rather revoltingly ... In scene after scene, Plorn encounters an Australian who makes some allusion to the novels of Dickens, and he conceals from them the fact that he has not read one. The repeated allusions to (and occasional dreams about) Charles Dickens, his circle, and the England Plorn has left behind only serve to emphasise the aching boringness, by contrast, of Victorian Australia. Likewise, every time someone mentions Little Nell or Lizzie Hexham, you wish you were reading a novel by the ‘guv’nor’ rather than this dreary stuff.
David D. Hall
PositiveThe Spectator (UK)His history is not so much one of ranters as of honest men and women trying to get right the most fundamental things of all: the human relationship with God, and hence the right way to be living and the right sort of society to be ordering ... The modern secular reader might think of [Puritans] as killjoys or bores. Hall dispels this feeling ... Hall, like [C.S.] Lewis, reawakens in the reader the intense excitement of the men and women who wanted to finish the Reformation. He makes you see how thrilling the theology was for them ... Hall does not make me like the Puritans much, but he does help me to see what made them tick, and to recognise the heroism of the ‘Saints’ who set out for New England ... This austere, impressive book would not gladden anyone’s Christmas, but I felt edified reading it, even at those moments which reminded me why puritanism, both in its authentic 17th-century forms and in its modern equivalents, will always repel me.
RaveSpectator (UK)This is a truly dazzling first novel. Every paragraph bristles with cleverness and yet it is a warm-hearted book, at times overpoweringly moving ... Hildyard cunningly explores this dichotomy — telling a good yarn, and trying to separate this need from the need to get at the facts — with superb meditations on three mysterious historical subjects, subjects which have become encrusted with speculation and legend ... Above all this is a passionate book ... This book is not just a promising first effort by a bright young writer. It is a considerable work of literature.