This story is interwoven with the equally true story of Mary Lamb who lives with brother Charles and, stifled by the limits imposed upon her by her mother, goes mad.
So the theme of the book is the irrational responses of children to the expectations created by their parents: R. D. Laing would have loved the argument.
The book is carefully written. Mary's father suffers from dementia and makes comments from time to time which sometimes seem to be full of wisdom but this reader was always unsure whether or not they referred to the action of the novel, or the subtext, or neither. This left me somewhat unsettled which was probably eactly what the author intended. There were occasions when he seemed to quote from other books that had not been written at the time of the action, so this was even more interesting. Mary's mother is wonderful for inserting the mundane into dialogue ("Tizzy! More hot water.") which keeps conversations from getting too serious, makes them seem more realistic and emphasises her role as the guardian of the everyday which is exactly what is driving Mary mad. And when Actor-Manager Sheridan turns up he is the model of a thespian, a practitioner, sir, of the sacred art which belongs to the muses Thalia and Melpomene.
This was an easy to read and very enjoyable entertainment. November 2014; 216 pages
Books by Peter Ackroyd reviewed in this blog:
- The Clerkenwell Tales
- The House of Doctor Dee
- The Lambs of London
- Milton in America
- The Fall of Troy