Jack’s adventure may not be immediately accessible to all audiences. Voth informs the reader that his manuscript may only be decoded by someone...who has lived on the margins of society. Someone who also, I might add, enjoys queer theory, 18th-century frame narratives, prison abolition literature, Marxist historical readings, a surprisingly lengthy subplot involving a copy of Spinoza’s Ethics and a running footnote hall of mirrors to rival Borges ... Rosenberg’s chimeric prose prevents all of this from feeling too pedantic. His numerous stylistic influences...while jarring at first, cohere by the third act ... Rosenberg...is also very funny, a virtue that may persuade readers to persevere through some of the novel’s more theoretical sections ... The climb may be steep, but the view from the top is grand.
Jack Sheppard, a legendary 18th century pickpocket and jailbreaker, operated for only about a year before being hanged for his crimes. But in that short span, his madcap spate of robberies and subsequent daring escapes from prison enthralled the working-class population of London. An immediate folk hero, he was immortalized in theatrical works by John Gay and, later, Bertolt Brecht. ... Confessions of the Fox is a historical novel, but it’s also speculative fiction, metafiction and a political argument. And the figure at its heart, Jack Sheppard, is, in Rosenberg’s fictional world, a trans man...Rosenberg, who is trans himself, recalled that most publishers were far more eager to publish a possible memoir about his experience as a trans man than a speculative historical novel featuring a trans character ... It’s a book that’s just as interested in its political messages as it is in its craft and narrative, and, unlike most books of this ilk, it’s compelling on each level.
There are a few terms that could describe Confessions of the Fox–historical romance, maybe. Historical erotica, maybe more. Thriller, heist story, academic drama, anti-capitalist manifesto. All of these genres weave into each other in this book, creating a dizzying and ambitious double narrative: Primarily, the story of Jack Sheppard, famed thief and jail-escapee, supported by the translations and notes of Dr R. Voth, an academic who has discovered a strange manuscript, and who becomes our guide into the life and times of Sheppard ... but the story becomes much bigger than just the life of Jack Sheppard. It becomes about the importance of narratives about, by, and for people who so rarely see themselves reflected in media. It becomes about telling our truths, and defining our own histories.
The novel, unfolding in a slang that is equal parts Jonathan Swift, Sarah Waters, and Eimear McBride, flexes its moral imagination with inclusive casting ... The colors are deftly blended and controlled. Confessions is an action-adventure tale with postmodern flourishes; an academic comedy spliced with period erotica; an intimate meditation on belonging that doubles as a political proof. Its themes are sex and repression, writing and silence. It is also a mystery ... Foxes are getaway artists: they leave behind only traces and symbols. One virtue of Rosenberg’s novel is that it never tries to cage the wild animals at its heart.
...a challenging philosophical work that’s also just great fun ... On one level this debut novel is a swashbuckling adventure about a notorious outlaw and his forbidden love in 18th century London—the kind of off-kilter picaresque destined to become a film starring Johnny Depp ... Much of his story is familiar: Sheppard is based on an English folk hero who was the centerpiece of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, which became Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera ... A bibliography closes this novel, for anyone who wants to explore further. For readers simply seeking a ripping yarn, this volume alone will suffice.
In some version of our maybe-present, professor R. Voth gets his hands on a moldering manuscript nobody in his university library seems to want. Voth ('a guy by design, not birth') soon discovers he's inherited the autobiographical 'confessions' of notorious thief and jailbreaker Jack Sheppard and is lover Edgeworth Bess, and sets about attempting to add some academic footnotes...Things do not go to plan ... There are some flourishes to this story that don't fit quite as well into the novel's interior conversation as they could, but Confessions of the Fox is an ambitious debut, and its exploration of this 'impossible, ghostly archaeology' will have you looking askance at tidy histories—which feels like just what Jack and Bess would want.
The overall effect [of the book] is zany, experimental and unmistakably 2018 ... Rosenberg is far too clever not to be aware of these pitfalls [with regrd to historical fiction], and he incorporates them into this bawdy, ticklish, witty book, playing off unreliable narrators and parallel transgender narratives ... Weird, exuberant metaphors abound. The children of a passing aristocrat are described as 'too-handsomely attired, orbiting him like Expressionless gas-filled balloons'. No one could call this novel underwritten ... Rosenberg has created an 18th-century riddle wrapped in a 21st-century enigma. Anyone with a head for postmodern heights will revel in it.
Written with superannuated style, the rhetorical flair blooming like ancient heliotropes from Sheppard’s true confessions, Rosenberg’s Sheppard and Bess highlight the Western canon for an audience that has always existed. This is less revelation than reclamation, not a reimagining but a correction for what has been edited out ... In Confessions of the Fox, Sheppard—the Gaol-breaker General—makes the most important escape yet from the onus of history and the deluge of brutal policing. It’s as a miraculous and awe-inspiring flight as the Newgate death sentence slip, a Confession which deserves to inspire the new hagiography.
Confessions of the Fox sounds like it could be a dry dissertation on philosophy and economic justice, especially once Spinoza is casually mentioned, but, instead, it is wry and lewd and fun. Rosenberg explodes narrative expectations repeatedly while never forgetting to make us care about the characters. And the end, as the kids say, is a kick right in the feels.
This eighteenth-century, anti-imperialist, anticapitalist love story tells the tale of notorious transgender thief Jack Sheppard...A rare manuscript of Sheppard’s memoirs is discovered in the present day by university professor Dr. Voth, also trans, whom readers get to know through the novel’s lengthy footnotes ... As the antique manuscript unfolds, things grow increasingly difficult for partners in crime Jack and Bess. The deadly plague encroaches on their English hovel, as do heartless mercantilism and a brutal police force ... Irreverent, erudite, and not to be missed.
Jack was not born Jack, but, a young girl with a knack for making and fixing things. Jack escapes indentured servitude and falls into the arms of Bess Khan, a prostitute of South Asian descent, who sees Jack as he longs to be seen. Together, the two lovers hatch schemes that take them across plague-ridden London, dodging the police state and the sinister grasp of Jonathan Wild, 'Thief-Catcher General,' who has it out for Jack ... In this inventive debut, Rosenberg transforms the legend of Jack Sheppard, infamous 18th-century London thief, into an epic queer love story ... Through a series of revealing footnotes, Voth traces queer theories of the archive as well as histories of incarceration, colonialism, and quack medicine practiced on the subjugated body. As the stories in the footnotes and the manuscript intertwine, the dual narrative shifts and snakes between voices and registers, from an 18th-century picaresque romp to an academic satire ... A singular, daring, and thrilling novel: political, sexy, and cunning as a fox.
...[an] astonishing and mesmerizing debut ... Rosenberg is an ebullient and witty storyteller as well as a painstaking scholar. Like the Sheppard of most earlier tellings, his Jack is an entertaining 'artist of transgression' who sheds shackles with ease. Yet the novel is most memorable when evoking the pain behind such liberations: the constraints of individual and collective bodies, and the infinite guises of the yearning to break free.