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Jem (and Sam): A Novel Paperback – April 18, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

Perhaps the only urge stronger than to write a diary of one's own is the compulsion to read someone else's. Anaïs Nin's fiction is nowhere near as widely read as the many volumes of her journals, while Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl is required reading in schools around the world. And Samuel Pepys, the 17th-century British civil servant, would most likely have sunk into complete obscurity if not for the lively reckoning he kept of the times he lived in, the people he knew, and what he thought about it all. Because of his diary, Pepys's life is an open book; but what of the myriad personalities he mentions in passing? In Jem (and Sam), Ferdinand Mount uses his putative ancestor Jeremiah Mount, a real-life drinking companion of the great diarist, as a springboard into the tumultuous 1600s.

The premise of Mount's novel is that "Jem" Mount was more than just a drinking buddy of Pepys's; indeed, he was something of a rival--albeit an unsuccessful one--in love, in politics, and ultimately in literature. The fictional diary begins with its narrator's childhood in Kent, and follows his progress: at 17 he's apprenticed to his uncle in Dover, and by 21 he's joined the civil service in Oliver Cromwell's new republic. Needless to say, Jem (who has already learned the fine art of cooking the books while working for his uncle) finds London a far more lucrative place to apply his skills, and at first he does well. It is during these heady, early days that Jem meets Sam Pepys, "a little man with eyes like children's marbles knocking together and a nose like a quill which he dipped into mine host's ink with a quick sucking motion as though he wished to empty the tavern before he was emptied out of it. He was all motion like a turbulent sea, yet neat." The two become friends, but when Cromwell dies and the monarchy is restored, Jem jumps from government employ into the service of a war hero whom he is secretly cuckolding, while Pepys stays in the civil service. It isn't long before Jem realizes his mistake, as he is gradually transformed into a glorified nanny, major domo, and occasional paramour while his friend rises spectacularly through the government ranks. Soon Jem is coveting everything Pepys has and doing his best (which of course, isn't enough) to get it all for himself.

Ferdinand Mount has crafted this picaresque tale with wit, intelligence, and a thorough knowledge of the times and the vocabulary with which to describe it. History real and imagined are seamlessly interwoven in a style Pepys himself would have been glad to own. By the end you'll find it difficult to believe the real Jeremiah Mount didn't write this diary; at the same time, you'll probably never look at Samuel Pepys's own effort in quite the same way again. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

columnist. His novel Of Love and Asthma received the 1992 Hawthornden Prize.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf (April 18, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786707453
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786707454
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,211,486 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on October 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Full of engaging, amusing, and above all human characters, this novel also boasts a vividly presented narrative of a turbulent era. Mount manages to keep the reader intrigued as Jem careers from bawdy houses to Oliver Cromwell's inner circle, from Dutch Wars to Jamaica, from political intrigue to treasure hunting. The characters with whom he treats run the gamut of all levels of society and include Samuel Pepys, the pirate Henry Morgan, and even the "Emperor of China," as Jem's fortunes vacillate. The author manages to employ a light hand and fine wit as he he juggles the demands of sweeping narrative, historical research, and intriguing characters, and succeeds in keeping the reader both entertained and fascinated by the period and its depiction.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Frank J. Konopka VINE VOICE on July 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
I've never read the diary of Samuel Pepys and now, having read this delightful work of historical fiction, I don't feel as if there is any necessity to do it. The author creates a believeable world, peopled with fully-drawn characters, and gives us a story that holds our interest from beginning to end. It's a people-oriented story, and even the Great Fire of London and the Great Plague become minor incidents in the life of Jeremiah Mount, the hard luck acquaintance and erstwhile friend of Mr. Pepys. Everything is well told, from life in the underbelly of London to the steamy landscape of colonial Jamaica. You follow the life of Jem Mount with great interest and, even though you know he's not a very nice person, you always hope against hope that he does well in the end. To make such an unlikely person a character in which you have such interest is a triumph for the author, and a sign of extremely good writing skills. This is definitely worth reading!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Frank J. O'Connor on July 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
to appreciate this vivid evocation of Restoration England and the circle about its great chronicler, Samuel Pepys (pronounced Peeps, by the way), but it helps. Thirty years out of college, this book not only brought to life an important historical era, but took me back to my undergraduate days in the classroom of Dr. Joseph Flaherty, Anglophile extraordinaire, visiting the coffee-houses, taverns and other haunts of the literary greats of Enlish history. The writing in this novel is vigorous, witty, bawdy as well as eloquent, and the book is recommendable for its literary merits alone. While Pepys carves out a long and successful career, the novel concentrates on the group of youthful friends he leaves behind: losers, malcontents, alcoholics, paranoids, conspirators, led by the eponymous Jem Mount, who scratch and crawl their way through a teeming Restoration world to their ultimate and ineluctable defeat. This sounds depressing but Ferdinand Mount's book is a prose celebration of a fascinating society and the characters who inhabit it.
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