From Publishers Weekly
As she has proved time and again, most recently in Every Man for Himself and Master Georgie, few novelists now alive can match Bainbridge for the uncanny precision with which she enters into the ethos of a previous era. This time it is the period of Dr. Samuel Johnson, and the strange relationship he built in his later years with wealthy Southwark brewer Henry Thrale and his vivacious but moody wife, Hester. Some of it is seen through the eyes of Mrs. Thrale's eldest daughter, the Queeney of the title, but such is Bainbridge's virtuosity with points of view that she can move into Dr. Johnson's or Mrs. Thrale's heads at will. This brief novel for each scene is pared down to its essentials is more a sketch of a way of life and feeling than a full-blown narrative. The great lexicographer is brought to life more vividly than by any chronicler since James Boswell. We see him enjoying the Thrales' hospitality, indulging in mostly imaginary dalliances with his hostess and sparring with the likes of Garrick and Goldsmith. He accompanies the Thrales and their hangers-on on a European journey that is freighted with woe, and also proudly escorts them on a pilgrimage to his hometown of Lichfield. The tension between the bizarre manners of the day and the unexpressed passions burning within is beautifully caught, and Queeney's skeptical commentary lends just the right distance. If in the end the impression is more of a study in the difficulties of friendship and the ravages of time, the extraordinary craft more than compensates for a lack of narrative drive.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
In recent years, Bainbridge's novels have shifted from pure fiction to the ironic treatment of historical figures or events: The Birthday Boys (1991) considered Scott's Antarctic expedition; Every Man for Himself (1996), the sinking of the Titanic; and Master Georgie (1998), the Crimean War. Beginning and ending in 1784 with the death (and autopsy report) of Dr. Samuel Johnson, her latest work ranges over his last 20 years, when Hester Thrale, the wife of a wealthy brewer, was pivotal in his life a relationship that continues to interest Johnson scholars. The viewpoint is not exclusively "according to Queeney," Mrs. Thrale's precocious oldest daughter, but her caustic assessment matters. Latin tutor and family friend Johnson was gentle and kind to Queeney, but here the eminent man of letters is portrayed as slovenly, eccentric, unstable, and ill. Bainbridge's novel is interesting as an experiment in writing about a figure from the past, but the fiction is often submerged beneath the history. For comprehensive collections of British literature. Ruth H. Miller, Univ. of Southern Indiana Lib., Evansville
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.