PositiveThe Times (UK)[Lucy Worsley]’s a national treasure. So, can we forgive her for writing this book about Queen Victoria in which she shamelessly quotes everybody else’s books endlessly? I think we can, just. She acknowledges every quote, telling us exactly which page of whose book it came from. And, in conceiving this book, she has had one inspired new idea.
That idea is to take 24 days across Victoria’s life and write a chapter about each one. It’s the Advent-calendar approach to royal biography and makes for a pleasingly unboring book ... You can hear Worsley’s voice clearly as you read ... The glory of this book is in the details, and the specific moments, that Worsley chooses to single out for mention, and in her cheerful voice as she leads us by the hand to the next window of Victoria’s life calendar.
RaveThe Times (UK)Marvellous ... It’s the layers of observation that make the book sublime. At the top of the layers is Hugo Vickers, ideal editor of these notes. His chapter openings in italics are indispensable ... Vickers has an ear for the hilarious ... deeply touching.
PanThe Times (UK)\"It’s the reviewer’s duty to read every word meticulously, and I did, going over countless paragraphs twice to make head or tail of them, and taking 15 small pages of notes to whittle down the thing to its essence. The essence was hard to pin down, fractured as the book is into a hundred disjointed scenes with a constant barrage of characters ... There are just far too many political, cultural and personal crises going on, and Baker lacks the crucial skill of making us feel for the huge cast of characters who appear.\
MixedThe Sunday TimesBy page 4 of this vast biography, I liked Edward Lear. By page 21, I pitied and cared about him. By page 90, I loved him. By page 521, I’d slightly had enough of him ... I liked him because, from the start, Jenny Uglow brings out Lear’s self-effacing, eccentric and rather girlie sweetness ... Uglow, who has written biographies of William Hogarth and Elizabeth Gaskell, takes us, month by month, year by year, through his adult life. This is impossible to do, I’m afraid, without causing a degree of tedium ... What could Uglow do? If you are writing Lear’s biography, you’ve got to say what he did, but by the page 300s I was finding that my least-favourite opening sentence of a paragraph was: \'The tour was not altogether finished\' ... We’re up against the uninterestingness of Other People’s Holidays. In England, we’re up against the uninterestingness of Other People’s Friends ... The friends often die. When Lear is heartbroken yet again, when his young Italian gardener dies of suspected typhus, I found I had compassion fatigue.
RaveThe Sunday TimesThis account of the life of Aida Edemariam’s grandmother is embellished with the author’s fiery imagination and her deep reading about Ethiopia’s history ... Edemariam wants us to fall in love with Ethiopia, and she does a good job of it. Her descriptions of the daily grinding of spices, the making of sauces and the scent of limes are beguiling ... The book’s heightened, almost Biblical prose can sometimes be a bit too grandiose ... The reality is dreamlike enough. It’s a book that gets under the skin.