Thursday, November 17, 2005

I was within minutes--mere minutes--of the end of Peter Ackroyd's The Lambs of London Tuesday evening when I came to the library. Unfortunately, we're not permitted to listen to audiobooks while we're at the service desk, so I was gratified to have Susan Tyler Hitchcock's Mad Mary Lamb to tide me over until it was time to leave.

I'd not realized the extent of literary license Ackroyd had taken in his novel--not surprising once I considered Milton in America, but at least then I knew from the outset that he was taking Milton somewhere he'd never actually gone. While he keeps the overbearing, difficult mother and the father with dementia, he never mentions an older brother to Charles and Mary, living elsewhere in London, nor the elderly aunt who lived with them in their rooms above a Holborn wig shop. He also excises the introduction of a nine year old apprentice to Mary, who'd come to live with her family in the fall of 1796, and who Mary had chased with a case knife immediately before turning it fatally upon her mother.

Ackroyd could have stuck with the unrelenting strain of providing elder care and a family predisposition toward mental illness to tell Mary Lamb's story, but then he couldn't have cleverly dovetailed it with a historical case of Shakespearean forgery, which is the true subject of Lambs. While there's no actual evidence Mary knew young bookseller William Ireland (that I'm aware of, at any rate), who confessed, in the spring of 1796, to writing several Shakespearean documents. To weave these two events together, forgery and matricide, Ackroyd invents unrequited feelings toward Ireland for Mary and creates an overheard conversation between William and his father to serve as a precipitating event before the murder.

The Lambs of London has been my only true success where audiobooks are concerned. It kept my attention from start to finish and it was easy to follow in the audio format. Although I told Sandra a month back that Simon Callow was the reader, Lambs is actually read by Alex Jenkins; Callow reads Death in Venice, which I'll be listening to next. Then I think I'll try some nonfiction, which everyone assures me works much better than fiction in audio.

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