Thursday, 2 February 2012

According to Queeney by Beryl Bainbridge

I initially read this book because it was on a list for a writing workshop. I dived in eagerly as I love the Eighteenth Century with all it's flayboyantly bad costumes, wigs and characters.
This is a fictionalised account of Dr Samuel Johnson and his relationship with his friend’s wife, Hester Thrale as seen through the eyes of her daughter Queeney.
Taking place over a number of years from middle-aged Johnson’s first meeting with the Thrales, until his death in 1784, the chapters alternate with various letters written by the adult Queeney, containing her reflections and loyal defence of Johnson and his various behaviours. His relationship with outspoken, precocious Queeney as they are ultimately bonded by Hester’s eventual neglect of them both, adds a touching dimension to a man who otherwise comes across as childish, petulant and embittered.
This is the only Beryl Bainbridge novel I have read, but would definitely read more. It’s alive with characters- real people in all their flawed glory. We are privy to a number of characters’ thoughts and Bainbridge moves seamlessly from one to another thus creating a deep sense of the real Johnson and Eighteenth Century society.
Read it if you like to find out more about famous historical figures as human beings rather than famous historical figures!
Review first appeared in Newbooks Magazine

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