From Publishers Weekly
Longlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize, Arnold's accomplished debut is a fictionalized take on the tumultuous marriage of Charles and Catherine Dickens. On the day of famed writer Alfred Gibson's public funeral, his estranged widow, Dorothea (Dodo), sits alone in her small London apartment, reminiscing about the One and Only. Although caring deeply about his public image as a family man, Alfred's actual relationship with his brood is fraught by his egomaniacal demands and philandering, his career eclipsing everything else. Dodo wishes she could climb onto the page, become one of her husband's protagonists and cajole him to pay attention to her. After years of marriage, Alfred casts Dodo out of the family home after taking up with a mistress, publicly shaming her, and admonishing their children not to visit her. After Alfred's death, Dodo grapples with the choice of emerging from her self-imposed exile or remaining in seclusion without facing the public who revered him. Arnold's impeccable research paints an entirely different portrait of Dickens than that assumed by readers of his fiction. (July)
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“Arnold’s knowledge of Dickens is impeccable, and she uses fiction to give Mrs. D. what she never had–a chance to interview her husband’s mistress and reclaim her beloved children. Beautifully written, entirely satisfying.”
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—The Times (London)
“A fine work of imagination and compassion that offers up other ways for us to understand a popular genius and those who loved him.”
“Fabulously indulgent . . . a lovely, rich evocation of the period that rises above the faintly damning ‘historical fiction’ label with its complex characterization and silky prose. A neat rendering of a celebrity marriage with all the pressure and expectation that courting fame invites.”
“A fascinating portrait of a Victorian woman in the near-impossible position of maintaining a sense of self while married to a famous, difficult, and wildly charismatic genius.”
“With his manic energy and flamboyant waistcoats, Gibson is a Dickensian character–and no wonder, for Arnold’s inspiration for her wholly absorbing novel lies in the complex married life of Charles Dickens and his wife, Catherine.”
“I could not put down this compelling and beautifully written novel. A young girl falls wildly in love with a brilliant, sensual writer. As the years pass, he becomes a genius adored by all Victorian England though in his personal life he turns against her, banishing her from him and their children when he falls in love with someone younger. Slowly she calls upon the greater power of ordinary real love in the face of genius and moves forward to take back her life. I cheered for her on every page of this deeply touching story.”
—Stephanie Cowell, author of Marrying Mozart
"Arnold paints a vivid picture of the breakdown of a marriage, the selfish demands of creativity, the suffocating confines of Victorian society, and the complex bonds between men and women. Her compassion for all of her characters, no matter how flawed or unsympathetic, makes for utterly compelling reading."
—Elizabeth Hickey, author of The Wayward Muse