Beryl Bainbridge was born in Liverpool in 1932 and died in Lindon in 2010. She published 22 novels, three collections of short stories and four works of nonfiction. She was short listed for The Booker Prize five times. She is regarded as one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century.
After finishing Harriet Said and then The Bottle Factory Outing i knew i wanted to read her twenty other novels but was not sure where to start. Then upon looking at the extensive catalogue at Open Road Media I found she had written a novel centering on Samuel Johnson's relationship with the Thrale family. Most people's vision of Johnson is derived from his biographer James Boswell. Boswell left out a very important element of the life of Johnson, his fifteen year relationship (begun in 1861) with the Thrale family. The novel covers incidents over the fifteen year period. They were so close that Johnson had his own room at their house (Henry Thrale was a wealthy Brewry owner and a member of parliament). Johnson would go home to his house in London two or three days a week. The Thrales regularly sent a carriage for him. Johnson and the Thrales were very close. He and their very precocious daughter Queeny had a special relationship.
According to Quieney is for people like me every into Samuel Jphnson as a person,not just as a writer. In order to fully appreciate this novel you need to know about Samuel Johnson's household members in London, his relationship to his late wife, Bossell of course, Henry Thrales and his wife and you need to understand Johnson's very real quirks and his brilliance. He was deeply into the reading life, he always took a lot of books with him when he went to visit the Thrales.
The Thrales entertained a lot and Dr. Johnson and his brilliant conversation were a draw. We meet Oliver Goldsmith and the great painter Joshua Reynolds. The Thrales have lots of children, Johnson's favorite is their daughter Queeny. She is depicted as able to read the Latin poetry of Dryden and Pope at age six.
I really liked the depiction of life at Johnson's house in London, where he produced his great dictionary. (I have been there and this novel really brought things to life for me.). Johnson shared his house with his longtime black sevent Frank Barber, two doctors who could no longer practice and two housekeepers. Bainbridge gets up close and personal with Johnson, depicting him in bed with his housekeeper Mrs Williams. Johnson is depicted as having great feelings of guilt brought on by his strong sex drive. He was close friends with James Boswell, among others, who routinely frequented prostitutes but it seems once his wife died, as Bainbridge shows us when we listen in on one of Johnson's more agitated conversation, Johnson's sexual activity was limited to through the clothes fiddling about with Mrs Williams and some lap sitting with younger women. He does talk bluntly about masturbation.
Anyone who knows the story of Johnson and the Thrales will be waiting for the tragic close of the relationship. Johnson's reaction to Mrs Thrales remarriage to an Italian piano teacher employed by the family brings out the worst in Johnson. Many think he was incensed to have lost his free meals,he was a big eater and his accommodations. Johnson and the Thrales were all cat lovers!
According to Queeney is structured in wonderful way. Every episodic chapter is closed by a letter from the adult Queeney, she went on to marry an admiral.
I totally enjoyed According to Queeney. Maybe those not into the world of Samuel Johnson may be better of with one of her other books but if you do have an interest then this book will delight you.Bainbridge has a great feel for the people in the novel. You will know right away if this book is for you and for the right readers,like me,it is a marvelous work.
I have begun reading her Young Adolf
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