Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Burning not so brightly?

A recent Book Club read was Tracy Chevalier's Burning Bright, a story set in London in1792 about William Blakeand his relationship with a family who lived next door to him in Lambeth. I had wanted to read this when it came out in hardback last year, but somehow never got round to ordering at at the library or even seeing it on a shelf and grabbing it ( I don't normally buy hardback fiction for myself) . I didn't find this quite as engaging as I had hoped and neither did the rest of the group. We have all read Tracy Chevalier's other novels and enjoyed them more, so I am left puzzling as to why this one didn't please quite as much as those other titles. The story is about the Kellaway family from Dorset who move up to London to escape their grief after the accidental death of one of their sons. They rent rooms in a house next to the home of William Blake and his wife, and much of the story concerns the impact London and it's entertainments have on Jem Kellaway and his friend and neighbour Maggie Butterfield. These two children are used as contrasts to each other, to life in town and country and also to innocence and experience, the titles of two of Blake's most well-known works of poetry. There is much that is interesting in it, such as the depiction of Philip Astley's circus, the increasing anti-French feeling and its expression by the local people, but perhaps it is because of this wealth of ideas rather than narrative that we found the book as we did. We still enjoyed it as a novel, but not so enthusiastically as the author's previous titles.

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