RaveTimes Literary Supplement (UK)Offers a final reckoning (Raban died in January this year), less egotistical, more rueful, informed by a catastrophic sense of the damage that can come one’s way. Raban is far too good a writer to make the parallel blunt, but the stroke is his war, and from the perspective of a wheelchair-bound hemiplegic he sees his father differently ... A fine achievement, a wide-ranging and compelling account with the author’s hallmarks of intelligence, erudition, humour and honesty.
PositiveThe Times Literary SupplementA slow-burning story of first love ... Incidental details root the novel in time and place ... If I have any criticism of this carefully researched and accessibly written novel... it is the author’s unbridled adoration of Anne Lister, which merely adds to the modern myth.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Like the romance story, the ghost-theatre theme is suffocated by too much other stuff. It is never quite clear how the characters can fit in all that they do and still find time to learn lines (Nonesuch) and fulfil responsibilities in Birdland (Shay). For many readers that won’t matter. Mat Osman offers an immersive brew, a seething, imagined world with historical referents and engaging characters.
MixedTimes Literary Supplement (UK)It is an offence to biographical and historical accuracy to use the female pronoun to describe experiences and settings that were exclusively male. Above all, it dilutes the scale of what James Morris did. As I read I found that the use of the pronoun \'she\' undermined my respect for the transition that I knew was coming up in the pages ahead ... Clements dutifully records the many published books and gives a sample of the reviews for and against. He rarely offers his own opinion. Morris did not want a biography to be written, and that accounts, presumably, for the cuttings-file nature of the commentary.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)Lucy Jago is a historian and the history here is very good. The London settings are precisely evoked; the sexual ambiguity of King James I’s court, along with its stiff hierarchies of rank and familial hostilities, are convincing. So too is the powerful undertow of religious divisions – with the Catholic Guy Fawkes and his band’s attempt to blow up Parliament – and the way they co-exist with pagan superstitions such as magic potions, necromancy and witchcraft. In the mental world of most Jacobeans, a woman’s worth is measured by her obedience to kin and custom; self-assertion is the devil’s work ... What doesn’t work is the choice of narrator and the words she is given ... She must explain complicated matters so that we follow a story about real people while absorbing a revisionary version, no longer misogynistic: one that emphasizes female friendship and rewrites the values attached to crimes and misdemeanours. Sometimes she recounts scenes she hasn’t witnessed ... While the muscles behind my eyes ached from the sense that every scene was written with a view to a screen adaptation, I was ultimately moved by a complex and intelligent interpretation of a story that bears retelling.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement (UK)... a cast of characters who flickeringly evoke the turbulence of the times ... both shocking and convincing ... [an] impressive novel.