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The Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd

The Lambs of London (edition 2005)

by Peter Ackroyd

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6913213,777 (3.36)84
Title:The Lambs of London
Authors:Peter Ackroyd
Info:Vintage Books (2005), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:novel, historical, reprint, paperback

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The Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd

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  1. 10
    Orlando by Virginia Woolf (themulhern)
    themulhern: Both books survey English literature through the stories of individuals.

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This didn't work for me, either as a novel or a fictionalized account of real events, and I'm not sure which one it was. Okay, I just leafed through and found it is meant to be a work of fiction (but with real life characters). I had a number of problems. The first was that I never really figured out when it took place. I know I should know when Charles Lamb lived and I could sort it out but I would have like a few clues, here and there, in the text. Eventually I found some mention of 200 years after Shakespeare but I never felt settled into any time period. Clearly, the author knows a great deal of historical detail but it doesn't flow easily into the narrative. Secondly were two very brief but quite graphic sex scenes that added absolutely nothing but shock value. They didn't advance the plot or develop any characters and appeared to be dropped in at random. Finally, the whole plot line simply petered out in the last few chapters. There was some time spent introducing an array of characters but, once the deception of William Ireland became clear, there wasn't much left to do and the author just wrapped up the loose ends as if it were a biography and that was it. I found it all a very unsatisfying read.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
  jll1976 | Oct 2, 2013 |
Engaging. Favorite quote: "I cannot see the point of doing this comedy," Mary said, if there is to be giggling all the time." ( )
  nlgeorge | Sep 22, 2013 |
Peter Ackroyd loves London and part of the purpose of this story is to vividly recreate the lives of people living in London in 1796. This is the year in which the smallpox vaccine was first administered by Edward Jenner. George III was still King of England and Napolean had not yet become the French Emperor.

The author may be satirizing himself in this book; the most significant characters seem to be able to summon up recollections of the past with an immediacy which overwhelms the present and to seek escape in the past from their daily troubles.

The characters are well drawn but somehow distant. This may be due to the frequency with which characters comment on the characters of others. We can not be sure that their estimation of each other is correct and so we can not be sure that we are correct about them.

I find the characters generally sympathetic and am impressed with William Ireland's ability to forge documents that were at least initially accepted as real. However, he lived in an age when the educated engaged in strenuous mental diversions.

The two scholars who are so deeply relieved that Shakespeare can be proven by the documents to be a good Anglican, neither a Catholic nor a Puritan, are there for comic relief. At the same time, their sexual predation gives an ironic cast to their concerns.

The notion of "thoughts coming unbidden" is not that different from Proust's involuntary memory.

Alex Jennings' reading is very nice. I enjoyed Thomas De Quincy's Manchester accent, although I doubt that it is authentic to that period.

This book, like Virginia Woolf's "Orlando" is liable to render one more interested in the authors of the period in which it is set.

Certain vignettes in the book seem to serve little purpose but to illustrate the arbitrariness and dangerousness of life in London a century before Sherlock Holmes made the scene. ( )
  themulhern | Aug 25, 2013 |
I had heard of Mary and Charles Lamb. I even read some of their Shakespearian Tales when I was in high school. However, I don’t think I knew they were brother and sister and I certainly didn’t know most of the other information Peter Ackroyd has delivered in this book. Of course, it is fiction so he may have added to the facts in order to make a better story. In fact he acknowledges this at the beginning of the book:
This is not a biography but a work of fiction. I have invented characters, and changed the life of the Lamb family for the sake of the larger narrative.
Charles Lamb was a clerk for the East India Company. He lived with his father and mother and his sister Mary. As was the custom at the time Charles was educated but Mary was kept at home and learned the arts of keeping a house. However, Mary was intelligent and used Charles books to study. In fact she outdid him in terms of learning. Charles wrote occasional pieces for publication in periodicals. One morning while on his way to work he stopped at a small bookshop owned by Samuel Ireland. He talked to Samuel’s son, William, and William showed him a book with an inscription by Shakespeare. Charles, Mary and William became well acquainted as they all loved Shakespeare. When William began to produce other documents signed by Shakespeare or in his handwriting he became the talk of London. William said he had met a woman in widow’s weeds who wanted help with documents that her late husband had collected. It was from this stash that William found the documents by Shakespeare. William even found a complete new manuscript for a play that was unknown. As his fame grew his relationship with Mary Lamb also matured. On William’s part they were just friends but Mary seemed to be quite infatuated with him. In fact, she verged on the edge of hysteria.
Eventually the relationships between Mary and William and between William and Charles began to disintegrate. William was questioned about the authenticity of the documents he had produced and the reader becomes aware that all is not right. Mary gets more insane until she stabs her mother. Mary is committed to an asylum where she gets treatment and is able to live outside of the asylum. Charles establishes a home and Charles and Mary live together. It is at this time that they produce their Shakespearian tales. William discloses his fakery but goes on to write a number of books.
I thought Ackroyd’s descriptions of London were wonderful. I could almost smell the odours on the Southbank when William took Mary there. On the other hand I didn’t like his characterization of Mary as a woman driven to insanity by unrequited love. It seems to me that too many times intelligent women who cannot use their intellect are accused of hysteria and that is what I feel Ackroyd has done with Mary.
Other than that lapse I enjoyed this book and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and Shakespeare. ( )
  gypsysmom | Sep 22, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099472090, Paperback)

Mary Lamb is confined by the restrictions of domesticity: her father is losing his mind, her mother watchful and hostile. The great solace of her life is her brother Charles, an aspiring writer. It is no surprise when Mary falls for the bookseller’s son, antiquarian William Ireland, from whom Charles has purchased a book. But this is no ordinary book — it once belonged to William Shakespeare himself. And William Ireland with his green eyes and red hair is no ordinary young man.

In The Lambs of London, Peter Ackroyd brilliantly creates an urban world of scholars and entrepreneurs, a world in which a clever son will stop at nothing to impress his showman father, and no one knows quite what to believe. Ingenious and vividly alive, The Lambs of London is a poignant, gripping novel of betrayal and deceit.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:01 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

For bored siblings Charles and Mary Lamb, the works of Shakespeare furnish a respite from the boredom and domesticity of their lives, until William Ireland, an antiquarian bookseller, claims to possess a long-lost Shakespearean play.

(summary from another edition)

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