This is an ambitious novel. The author has taken Shakespeare’s sonnets and created a novel around them, selecting those that fit this narrative – 32 in all, reproduced in full within the text.
Although I love Shakespeare’s plays, I’ve never read the sonnets, just knowing a couple of the famous quotes. This novel was a great way of getting to know them, and importantly, understanding them for they are full of coded messages and allusions which need interpretation. I must say he’s done a pretty good job.
Plague has shut London’s theatres, so young Shakespeare is staying with his patron, the Earl of Southampton who is an art-lover and encourages Will in his endeavours. Thus the poetry flows, full of fraternal love. Enter two women on the scene and Shakespeare falls in love with the dark lady of whom many of the sonnets are written about. There has been much speculation over her identity over the ages, and the author goes with the current thinking that she was the wife of the Earl’s tutor Lucia Florio. Politics is also to the fore in Tudor England, and Shakespeare has to write carefully lest he be found out.
This is a novel full of romance and passion, and of course it is brimming with poetry. The characters are vivid including a cameo from Marlowe, and I couldn’t help falling for the Earl a bit myself! Collins has also had some fun with certain lines from Shakespeare, and manages to get many of the titles of his plays into the text – which lighten the serious emotions on display throughout the rest.
Although I may not actually go as far as reading the rest of the sonnets, I’m glad to understand and enjoy those I read here. You don’t have to be a Shakespeare lover to enjoy this novel, but it has definitely inspired me to revisit some other Bardic stuff.
It’s currently available as a limited edition of 1000 hardbacks all signed by the author. You can read John Self’s review here and more from the publisher Scott Pack here.
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The Sonnets by Warwick Collins, pub The Friday Project.