Chatterton Paperback – Aug 2 1988
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From Publishers Weekly
With this inventive, larky novel, British author Ackroyd's (Hawksmoor) reputation here should be enhanced. Though the characters at first seem to be excessively eccentric, Dickensian to a fault, eventually they become credible as an ingenious plot fuses their lives. Revolving around the eponymous English poet who committed suicide in 1770 when he was 18, the story begins in modern-day London where another impoverished poet, Charles Wynchwood, discovers a painting that appears to depict Chatterton at an age older than he was when he died. Intrigued, Charles travels to Bristol, Chatterton's birthplace, where he acquires a manuscript that suggests that Chatterton faked his own death and continued to write poetry that was attributed to Cowper, Grey and Blake, among others. Meanwhile, elderly novelist Harriet Scrope employs Charles to help her write her memoirs, which she hopes will not reveal the fact that her novels have all been plagiarized from obscure authors. Simultaneously, the owners of an art gallery where Charles's wife Vivien works are made aware that paintings they have sold are actually fakes. As Charles's life begins more and more to resemble Chatterton's, whom we meet in flashback, Ackroyd unrolls further surprises, capturing the reader in a spiraling series of events, all of which relate to the nature of truth and reality, and the role of art in assuring immortality. Manifestly clever, darkly humorous (although sometimes overdone: the poet Charles eats the pages of books), increasingly suspenseful, sometimes lyrical (as befits its subject), cunningly complex, this eminently satisfying tale has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
A bestseller in Britain, Chatterton is the latest of Ackroyd's fictional games with figures from Britain's literary past. The plot centers around the discovery by Charles Wychwood, an aspiring poet, of an old manuscript that he believes to have been written by Thomas Chatterton, the 18th-century English poet who committed suicide at 18. Or did he? Ackroyd tantalizingly explores the themes of reality and illusion, truth and falsity, mortality and immortality, and the curious and inexplicable ways in which past, present, and future are entwined. An intriguing plot, laced with mystery and a hint of possession (a favorite subject of Ackroyd's), combines with a gallery of eccentric characters and some witty dialogue to produce this skillful, engaging, thought-provoking novel.Bryan Aubrey, Fairfield, Iowa
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
When novelist George Meredith posed as Chatterton in Henry Wallace's painting "The Death of Chatterton," is it true that the painter made off with his oblivious model's wife?
In the present day, were the papers found by poetaster Charles Wychwood in Bristol really the confessions of Chatterton written in his own hand? And what about that painting of Chatterton as a middle-aged man? (He was supposedly 17 when he died.)
Will literary "resurrectionist" Harriet Scrope succeed in taking Wychwood's work on Chatterton and passing it off as her own, just as Stewart Merk merrily signed the dead painter Seymour's name to his own work?
Why am I asking so many questions?
Because there are no answers. That's all right, though, because the questions are great; and they just keep on coming. If you read this book, you will sink deep into a morass of counterfeiting, fraud, and outright fakery.
Be prepared to be bamboozled ... and entertained.
It is not surprising that Peter Ackroyd would be interesting in writing a novel about Chatterton's life, since the author has long been interested in masks, impersonation, and other ways of presenting a public pretense. Consequently, this is not a historical novel, although it deals with real people and real times. After all, little is really known about Chatterton beyond his poems. Obviously dissatisfied with the time and place of his birth, Chatterton creates Rowley as a way of improving his lot in life, or, at least, that is clearly his intention. But in the real world Chatterton cannot function. He takes pride in writing political satires that attack everyone and everything, but in failing to have convictions and a particular point of view, he reveals that in presenting other identities he has lost his true one. In this regard and in this novel, however, he is clearly not alone.
"Chatterton" is clearly not a conventional historical novel is that Ackroyd repeatedly plays with chronology. He is more interested in comparing and contrasting events than he is in sequencing them appropriately.Read more ›
As with other novels by Ackroyd ("The Great Fire of London" and "Hawksmoor" for example), past periods both intersect with and influence the present. Ackroyd's London both lives in the present and lives through, or with, its past: what we perceive as present reality is in essence a mixture of now and then.
The story flows between:
- the present, when the discovery of a supposed portrait of the middle-aged Chatterton (who in fact died in his teens) sets off an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the poet's death;
- Chatterton's boyhood and youth in eighteenth century Bristol and London; and
- a Victorian painter working on a depiction of Chatterton's death.
As the investigation unfolds and the time periods mix, truth and reality become unreliable: our view of the both past and present is incomplete, we have to rely on sources who may themselves be unreliable and fill in the gaps by use of our own imagination. The result of this is that we either take things on trust and/or let our imaginations run wild. Thus we can be duped - as Chatterton duped contemporary audiences.
Most recent customer reviews
"Chatterton" by Peter Ackroyd is a quirky, but interesting novel about an aged poet who discovers a lost journal that could turn the literary world upside down. Read morePublished on May 8 2004 by Peter LaPrade
Peter Ackroyd's "Chatterton" was shortlisted for the Booker Prize award in 1987. It didn't win and remains a largely forgotten gem, being seldom if ever included in... Read morePublished on June 29 2000