Sunday, October 03, 2010

Mr. Shakespeare's Bastard by Richard B. Wright

In a quiet manor house in Oxfordshire, an ailing housekeeper by the name of Aerlene Ward feels the time has come to confess the great secret that has shaped her life-she is the illegitimate daughter of William Shakespeare, England′s most famous playwright.

With a brilliant eye and ear for this rich period of history, Richard B. Wright brings to life the teeming streets of Elizabethan London and the seasonal rhythms of rural life in Oliver Cromwell′s England as he interweaves the intriguing stories of the lovely Elizabeth, who allows herself to be seduced by a struggling young writer from Stratford, and her plain but clever daughter, who must live with the consequences.

As their lives unfold, secrets are revealed, love is found and lost, and futures are forever changed. Readers will be fascinated by glimpses of the young Will as an actor with the Queen′s Men and, fifteen years later, as a world-weary but increasingly wealthy playwright -- who may have had an unexpected daughter.

An engaging blend of invention and historical detail, and echoing the unmistakable style of the Bard himself, MR. SHAKESPEARE′S BASTARD confirms Wright as one of our finest storytellers. This unforgettable novel will delight the senses and touch the heart.
When the Giller long-list was announced this year I was shocked that Room by Emma Donoghue wasn't on it. I was hoping it would be because she has been writing for a long time and seems to get more recognition elsewhere than she does in Canada! Then, I saw no Richard Wright on the list. As someone who loves Richard Wright's books, I was shocked he didn't make even the long-list this year. Everyone should run out and get a copy of Clara Callan. It was the first book I read by him and I loved it! Now when he has a new book out I get excited and rush out and get a copy. He has never been able to top Clara Callan for me, but he is still an amazing Canadian author who I love everything by.

I was a bit surprised by the topic of his latest book. A book about Shakespeare? Very different from the other books I have read by him! I have to admit I haven't read all of his backlist yet, but I still think if I had I would be surprised by this book. I appreciate Shakespeare, don't get me wrong, but I think he is way overdone... In university there were courses dedicated to him, but to no one else. Is he really the greatest writer of all time, or is it more the mystery and conspiracy theories that surround him? Then, there are all the non-fiction and fiction books centred around him. I will read a couple here and there, but generally I stay away. If this wasn't written by an author I respect, I probably would have glanced at it and decided it was not a priority read. But, it is Wright's book and I read it at the first opportunity.

This was a good book. It is considered fact that Shakespeare was not in a happy marriage, right? He only left his wife a bed. So, it stands to reason that if he wasn't very happy in his marriage he had plenty of mistresses and as a result of that there were probably bastards. This book imagines what it would be life for a child of Shakespeare's that was not acknowledged. Aerlene is nearing the end of her life and has decided that she wants to tell her story. She gets the daughter of the house that she helped raise to copy down her lines and reveals that she is Shakespeare's daughter. She has never spoke of it before because she fears being ridiculed, but knowing that she is likely not long for this earth she wants people to know.

The novel starts by telling about her mother. Her mother was a bit risque for the time period. She married a man that died soon afterwards, had an affair with a man that was unable to speak, and then was sent to London to ride out the scandal. While there she meets Will Shakespeare while he was still an apprentice. Over the course of a few weeks they have an affair, but it all ends when she becomes pregnant with his child and the people she is living with decide they don't want anymore to do with her. She returns to her small town to live with her brother and his wife. There she raises Aerlene, but she dies young and leaves her to her brother to decide her future. After a bit of drama, Aerlene is also sent to London where she has the chance to meet her father. With the exception of the courtship, of sorts, and this brief meeting, Shakespeare is more a ghost to the pages than an actual character. Aerlene's mother did not know that he was a playwright until she finds a copy of one of his plays by chance. That's the night that she tells Aerlene who her father is, though.

I am not even sure if this is a spoiler-filled review. The story of Shakespeare is well-known. Wright just imagines a bit more of his life. This could even be very close to true, we will never really know. One thing that keeps getting brought up is how people are able to read and write and how surprising that is. That's one of Shakespeare's problems; people don't think it was possible that someone with his upbringing would be able to write. I like to think that anything is possible, but maybe I am too optimistic.

This was another good book by Wright. It wasn't the same as other books I have read by him, but he still made England come alive, created believable characters, and wrote a story that made me want to continue reading. If you like Shakespearean fan fiction, this is a good one for you. If you enjoy books set in Elizabethan England, this is also another one for you.


  1. This one sounds interesting and indeed plausible!!

  2. I am not sure what to make of this book. I don't know that many Canadian authors. Jane Urquhart. Nancy Huston, Margaret Atwood...Jacques Poulin. I was never disappointed with any of them. Looking for other names I bought The Cambridge Companion to Canadian Literature a few weeks ago... After reading your post I think I should really try Clara Callan.

  3. Anonymous7:50 PM

    This sounds like an interesting book that I will add to Mt. TBR. Not what I usually read but that's what its all about right?

  4. Anonymous9:29 PM

    I agree that Shakespeare is overdone and usually try to avoid him myself, but I do love stories that speculate like this one. It can give historical figures such interesting personalities even if it is all fictional. I'm intrigued enough by your review to read it.

    I've also just added Room to my book list because I have been seeing that in so many places lately. It's really doing the rounds at the moment.

  5. This one sounds really good, and believeable too :)
    Great review!

  6. I read and really enjoyed FARTHING'S FORTUNES several years ago, but I haven't been back to Wright since. I do like Elizabethan England and Shakespeare very much, so I'll keep an eye out for this one.

  7. I'm adding this one to my list. I DO love Shakespeare, but I love mysteries, science fiction, and fantasy, as well. I'm an eclectic reader, and since I'm not familiar with this Richard Wright, maybe I can start with this novel.

  8. Anonymous5:12 PM

    Sounds like one to keep an eye out for :)

  9. Interesting concept for a novel. I am a fan of novels set in Elizabethan England. Thanks for the great review!


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