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Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land (P.S.) Paperback – Bargain Price, July 3, 2006

3.9 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. On a stormy night at Lord Byron's Swiss villa, Mary Shelley challenged her host, her husband and herself to write a ghost story. Mary's, of course, became Frankenstein. Byron supposedly soon gave up his—but, Crowley asks, what if he didn't? The result is this brilliant gothic novel of manners enclosed in two frames. In one, Byron's manuscript comes into the hands of Ada, his daughter by his estranged wife. Ada, in reality, became famous as a proto-cyberneticist, having collaborated on mathematician Charles Babbage's "difference engine." In Crowley's novel, Ada ciphers Byron's work into a kind of code in order to keep it from her mother. The second frame consists of the contemporary discovery of Ada's notes on Byron's story by Alexandra Novak, who's researching Ada for a Web site dedicated to the history of women in science. Alex is, a little too conveniently (this novel's one structural flaw), the estranged daughter of a Byron scholar and filmmaker; her interest in Ada dovetails with her father's interest in Byron, and she's fascinated by the notes and the code both. By applying Byron's scintillating epistolary style to the novel he should have written, Crowley creates a pseudo-Byronic masterpiece. The plot follows Ali, the bastard son of Lord "Satan" Sane and an unfortunate minor wife of a minor Albanian "Bey." Sane finds and takes the boy, aged 12, back to Regency England. Ali's life is filled with gothic events, from the murder of his father (of which he is accused) to his escape from England with the help of a "zombi," the fortuitous and critical aid he gives the English army at the Battle of Salamanca and his love affair with a married woman. The myth of Byron's lost papers has a catalyzing effect on American literary genius, giving us James's Aspern Papers and now Crowley's best novel.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Did Byron leave behind a novel? That's the premise of this one, which posits that the manuscript ended up in the hands of his brilliant daughter, Ada. Around 150 years later, Ada's notes on the text, a tantalizing single page of the manuscript, and several pages of numbers are discovered by another brainy daughter, Alexandra Novak, an American who is in London researching the lives of British women of science for a Web site called Strong Woman Story. Alexandra (or Smith, as she is called) enlists the help of her lover Thea, a mathematician, and her estranged father, Lee, once a professor of Byron studies, to unravel the mystery of the novel, which Ada claimed was destroyed. Crowley's use of three different devices--Byron's work, a convincing piece of romantic fiction rich with thinly disguised autobiographical elements; Ada's annotations; and a series of e-mails exchanged in the present day--adds up to an intriguing and multilayered whole. This book should appeal to fans of another literary mystery, A. S. Byatt's Possession (1991). Mary Ellen Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (July 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060556595
  • ASIN: B003H4RD1A
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,339,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Although I take issue with what some reviewers here have said--that this is Crowley's best book (no way, that's "Little, Big")--I think that "Lord Byron's Novel" is certainly one of the two or three best novels of this year. It really is extraordinary and audacious: a novel-within-a-novel written entirely in the idiom of 19th century England--punctuated by a epistolary novel written by electronic mail! What the hell? This is bizarre stuff, and it doesn't always work, but for the most part it absolutely does, and the book is incredibly entertaining and inventive. From the Polanski-like contemporary father to the Satanic Lord Sane in Byron's lost novel, there are some extremely memorable characters here...quite honestly, I was thrilled by the whole novel.
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Format: Hardcover
The young son of an Albanian mother is discovered in Albania by his Scottish father, Lord Sane, who brings him back to a deteriorating manse in Scotland and schools him for a new life as his heir. Ali, the boy, apparently tainted by the Sane family curse, soon begins his misadventures. A painful young love, a gruesome hanging, an escape by ship in the moonlight, the discovery of a young woman masquerading as a boy, ominous sleepwalking episodes, the periodic appearance of a bear, the arrival of a ghostly double, false imprisonment--all these events figure in Ali's story, which illustrate all the complications of a Gothic romance.

Author John Crowley presents Ali's story as the missing novel written by George Gordon, Lord Byron in 1816, creating a scenario in which Byron's missing manuscript is sold to finance Byron's involvement in European movements promoting Liberty and Freedom. Clear parallels exist between events in Ali's story and events in Byron's life, but Crowley also connects Bryon, through his manuscript, with the life of Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace, Byron's estranged daughter.

In a third plot line, a web site designer, Alexandra Novak, known as "Smith," is working on a site devoted to women's science history. Georgiana, her client, purchases some papers found in a seaman's trunk which once belonged to Ada's son Byron, who ran away to sea. Georgiana shows Smith a single sheet of an unknown manuscript in Byron's handwriting, but there are many additional pages containing long columns of numbers, their importance unknown. Smith's attempts to discover the secret to the numbers, written by Ada, unfold simultaneously with Ali's story.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Evening Land" is indeed another great novel by Crowley. Other authors (including, arguably, Crowley himself) have written novels about modern characters making extraordinary discoveries both historical and personal as they pore over ancient manuscripts--but here, the novel for the most part IS the manuscript, and it is quite a story. To write an entire novel in the voice of Lord Byron takes some remarkable audacity, and Crowley pulls it off. The story is thrilling and pretty hilarious--like this bit, right after "Byron's" protagonist Ali has been arrested for murder:

"...For the Law has undoubted Majesty--and that Majesty is not diminished when we observe the Law's wig askew, or its waistcoat misbuttoned; nor in that we have seen the Law drunk at the Fair, or upon the public road..."

It's these sort of cheerful, sarcastic, offhand pleasures that make the novel-within-a-novel such a pleasure to read. And the end of that novel, the last few paragraphs, in which its title is finally explained, are some of the more oddly haunting and unexpectedly emotional paragraphs I've read in recent memory. This book is full of surprises and pleasures, large and small. (Especially look out for certainly anagrammatical secrets hidden in a few places...some characters are more than who they seem, though most readers will miss it...)
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Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed the half of this book that I read--which is to say, I found the Byronic novel-within-novel completely unreadable (and I am a fan of overembellished, melodramatic nineteenth-century novels, so this was actually the part of the book to which I was most looking forward), but was completely engrossed by the relationships depicted and developed through the series of emails. To me, those were the richest and most eloquent part of the novel, and I could easily have spent another 200 pages with those three characters. (Every time I would hit a section of "novel," I would get irritated at being interrupted.) So I'm not sure if I would recommend this book or not, as the only way I could enjoy it was not to read half of it.
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Format: Hardcover
Look, I've enjoyed Crowley's books for nearly 30 years, since I read _Beasts_ sometime in the mid 70s. If I had to list my 5 favorite books of all time, it's likely that 3 of them would be Crowley titles (Little Big, Engine Summer, and Love and Sleep). Crowley used to write these amazingingly dense, erudite, yet very emotionally charged books that are, I think, everything a novel should be. But this book left me completely uninterested, frustrated, and ultimately as disatisfied with a book as I recall ever being. I finished it while traveling on an airplane, and I left it in my seat back with no interest in ever seeing it again.

Maybe I misunderstood the premise, or the way it is described or depicted. I thought that it was a book about some people in our own time who stumble across a lost novel by Lord Byron, which was encoded somehow by the early computer scientist Ada Lovelace, his daughter, and that Crowley would include some of the novel as written by Byron. I imagined it as sort of like Aegypt, in which the modern-day sections are interwoven with excerpts from a historical novel. But that isn't really what we have here. Instead, we have the entire Byron novel, written by Crowley. Now, I'm certainly no Byron scholar, but I have read some of his poetery, and IMO, this book is nothing at all like a work by Byron. I just don't see it, even though one of the characters in the modern-day portion of the book is a Byron scholar and he tells us that the book does seem genuine. I'm sorry, but it doesn't. Crowley even quotes a few stanzas of Byron's poetry, which just highlights what a poor imitation this is. It is mentioned a couple of times that this is a "rough draft" but that strikes me as a poor excuse. Then there is the Byron novel itself.
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