I was hoping this would be a novel based - however loosely - on historical events, embellished with the usual projections of what the protagonists might have felt, seen, eaten, said or done. The reviews had promised "an extraordinary and compelling story...", "brilliantly and memorably re-created by English novelist and critic Dan Jacobson in this scrupulous yet highly imaginative novel"... "the writing in it is marked by precision and pungent detail"... so of course I had high expectations.
Unfortunately, there were so many factual and linguistic errors in the first few dozen pages that I got increasingly frustrated. On page 66, I finally gave up since I no longer viewed this as an intellectually stimulating read. Writers who use many foreign words usually want to either evoke a more 'authentic' feel of the outlandish setting of the novel or show off their own linguistic skills. No matter whether the author himself speaks German - at least the book's editors might have checked some of the spelling.
The Italian name of Venice is wrongly spelled "Venetia" (instead of Venezia, p.19), the main protagonist's title is given as "Louise von Sachse-Coburg" (instead of Sachsen-Coburg, p.24). Other errors like "Mittelschuler" (instead of Mittelschüler, p. 19), "Stadtsoper" (instead of "Staatsoper", p.39) or "gräfin" (instead of "Gräfin", p. 66) might just be typos. And citing Sigmund Freud's work "Studies on Hysteria" as "Studies in Hysteria" might just be an alternative translation [...]Something that might happen to the best of writers...
But then there is that reference to "Egon Klimt striking a price with a consumptive prostitute whom he is eager to paint in the flat desperate colors he is making his own". Interesting. This must be Egon SCHIELE, right? Dan Jacobson couldn't have meant Gustav Klimt, famous for his decorative Jugendstil paintings dominated by gold and bright colours, could he? But that's odd, since Schiele was born in 1890 and Jacobson is talking about Vienna in 1896 at this point - a six-year-old painting prostitutes would have been quite unusual, I think.
And then, further down on the same page, he evokes "Ludwig von Wittgenstein" as a boy on a walk with his governess. I think he probably didn't mean the Renaissance count Ludwig von Wittgenstein (1532-1605,[...]) but the philosopher and author of the "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus". He was from one of Europe's wealthiest families but not an aristocrat - therefore, his name had no "von", he was just "Ludwig Wittgenstein" [...]. Simple mistakes, right? Who cares about a "von" in a name anyway?
But then what about calling Franz Joseph I., Emperor of Austria, "king"? (p60) Or referring to him as "Franz Josef" instead of "Franz Joseph" throughout the book?
I gave up on page 66 since I'd become bored by the sloppiness of the book's research. The story of the aristocratic love triangle and subsequent imprisonment, bankruptcy and madness of the protagonists would have been interesting, of course, but the prose really did not make up for the careless treatment of the historical setting.
Instead, I entertained myself making analogies for an entire afternoon... and decided I'd probably one day publish a historical novel about the 19th century since I'd always been interested in the reign of Empress Viktoria, her beloved Prince Albert of Sax-Coburg, the work of famous writers like Sir Charles Dickens or W.B. Tennyson, the rise of operas and theatres like the Old Vik, and the big changes that the Industrial Revolution wrought on cities like Mancester... Writing historical novels can't be that difficult after all, seeing that "All for Love" got published, too...