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.