Fantasy, fairy tale, morality story; this is an unusual and fascinating book of historical fiction which moves between Shakespeare’s London (though he is only mentioned once, and then obscurely) and a village dominated by a forest. Gender, sexuality and the world of the supernatural are fluid in this adult novel which deals with the true nature of beauty. While gothic horror and death are never far away, the curse of perfect beauty is examined in a novel in which nothing and nobody is as it seems, leading to many twists and turns. While historical fantasy of the most complex nature abounds, this book has much to say about love and the parent child relationship in a curiously modern light. I was very pleased to receive a copy of this lovely book to read and review.
This book opens with a section from the view of the Sorceress, who will not only be a significant character in the novel, but also a force of many of the events. She identifies strongly with the ancient oaks which the evil Lord Rodermere has pledged to cut down and use in the construction of his house that becomes known as the House with Three Turrets. In vengeance for this crime, she places a curse on him to the effect that his son will grow to kill him. At that stage he has but one daughter, Clare, who has been scarred by a childhood illness. She is someone who is not really developed, but would make an interesting character in her own right. Eventually a boy arrives who grows to be stunningly beautiful, and who is accordingly called Beau. Meanwhile, Rodermere has disappeared, and an alchemist who is summoned to help find him, Thomas, comes and goes. He has a secret child, who grows to be a terrible beast in form; a girl who is aware that she repulses people by her half furred appearance, and her immense wings. Thus the Beauty and the Beast tale is changed around, as the girl becomes tragically aware of her appearance in a neat symbol of how some young women become obsessed with their body image. Many complex adventures ensue, as the memorable Gally and a company of actors turn up. It is this group of actors who provide some light relief, as Shakeshaft and Crumb frequently get drunk and there are sly references to a better known player who was also working in London at the time. Curses, ultimatums and love become increasingly complex as various levels of revelations are made and the action moves between the House and London.
Delaney has constructed a world of magic and unpredictability that make this unusual novel simply captivating for the reader. She writes “Here then is a truth: man is a creature who feeds on stories as beasts feed on raw meat. We inflame our senses with such wild imaginings that our minds are but kindling for the tale”. This is a novel of wild tales, fantastic events and incredible imagination, and as such is a unique experience. It is also a beautiful book to handle in its hardback form. I recommend it as a book of adult fairy tales, with some brutality and yet some delicacy, always fascinating and genuinely enjoyable.
The other evening during Storm Freya (!) we went to see the film “Stan and Ollie” which was virtually a private screening. We enjoyed it as a story, and found the two leads gave very touching performances. As someone who watched a lot of television in my childhood I have fond memories of the famous pair in some of their films being repeated at odd times, so I felt quite the expert, whereas Northernvicar was new to the sketches and songs. Like any good biographical film the mannerisms are faithfully reproduced, at least in the public persona, so the image was convincing. I imagine the film will be finishing in the cinemas very soon, so it may now be a dvd experience, and it is a worthwhile film to watch.