Monday, 11 March 2013

A Treacherous Likeness

I take all pictures on my bed
The very first thing to say about this book is just how gorgeous it is. My dreadful picture does not do justice at all to the gorgeous cover, but the background is like beautiful wallpaper and the ornate frame is all embossed. And just look at the endpapers:

I've been reading quite a lot on kindle recently and it's great when you can get a book for 20p* or if you MUST READ IT NOW but you don't get endpapers. Lovely endpapers. 

A Treacherous Likeness is the third of Lynn Shepherd’s novels where she weaves a mystery story through an existing novel or novels. The first of these is Murder and Mansfield Park, obviously inspired by Austen’s novel, and the second Tom-All-Alone’s, which uses Bleak House as its starting point.  For A Treacherous Likeness, Lynn Shepherd has taken her inspiration from the life of Percy Bysshe Shelley and the mysteries of his life, which include the suicide of his first wife and an incident when he claimed someone tried to kill him. 

A Treacherous Likeness begins in 1850, immediately after Tom-All-Alone's when young detective Charles Maddox is employed by Sir Percy Shelley, the only surviving child of the Shelleys, to investigate a case of blackmail. This blackmail case leads Charles to uncover long buried secrets of the Shelleys and challenges the romanticised view of Shelley that Sir Percy and Lady Shelley have been carefully cultivating.  

Lynn Shepherd has filled the gaps in Shelley's life, offering explanations for some of the mysteries and using existing letters and facts to build up this fiction. This book is so well researched that nothing you read about Shelley will directly contradict the events of the novel.  So often books with continue or engage with other works, or with provide fictionalised accounts of real people, feel trashy and are often very badly written (I'm looking at you, Mr Darcy Takes A Wife) but Lynn Shepherd's books are the opposite of that. Lynn Shepherd's books are joyful book-nerdery rather than tragic fanfiction. 

As with Tom-All-Alone's, you don't need to know anything about the source material for this to be interesting, but it is more fun when you know the references and can compare the novel with the original. If you are familiar with the lives of the Shelleys, Claire Clairmont, and WIlliam  Godwin you must be prepared for them to be portrayed in ways that you may not like, for people that you admire to be portrayed as selfish, unhinged and possibly evil. For this reason I am very happy that Mary Wollstonecraft does not figure in this novel at all because I really couldn't deal with her looking evil! It is incredible to think how young all these people were -- Shelley died when he was only 29 and Mary Shelley was 17 when she had Shelley's first child. And how they could have lived easy and unremarkable lives now, when all the things that they held as radical views are now pretty mainstream - Shelley was expelled from Oxford for being an Atheist and he was vegetarian who believed in free love. 

Read it (and be grateful for access to free and effective birth control (as long as you live somewhere you can get free and effective birth control)) 

Mary Shelley portrait from the Harry Potter Studio tour. DUH, Mary Shelley was a witch.  
Lynn Shepherd's website (has great videos for all her books) 
Shelley's Ghost Website (amazing virtual exhibition about the Shelleys with suicide notes and all sorts)

*You can get John Lanchester's book Capital for TWENTY PEEEE here


  1. I WANT TO READ ALL THE BOOKS YOU READ! I know very little about the Shelleys, but I'm still really interested in them? But that means I wouldn't be sad when they're all annoying. So that's good!