First the bad bit: this book has got one of the most horrendously tacky covers I’ve ever seen which makes it look like a cheap romance.
And the good bit? This is one of the best historical novels I’ve read for a very long time. It examines the lives of Byron, Shelley and Keats through the eyes of the women around them, Lady Caroline Lamb, Augusta Leigh, Mary Shelley and Fanny Brawne . I’ve read a fair amount about all of them and was a little worried that there might be a bit of the ‘I know that’ factor but Jude Morgan makes every fact seem fresh and new. He also makes you believe that everything he writes is true, I don’t know whether it is all historically accurate but it certainly seems so. It’s not always an easy read, the beginning was slightly hard to get into and there are a lot of changing points of view from character to character, sometimes from third person to first (Lady Caroline Lamb) which takes getting used to but it is always a good, gripping read. One of the best things about it is that he doesn’t shrink from showing the reader the faults of his characters and yet you have sympathy with all of them – with the exception of Arabella Milbanke whom I don’t think anyone could make sympathetic. My only real niggle is that Keats’ and Fanny Brawne’s story seems almost sidelined and tacked onto the rest of the narrative but then Keats and Fanny didn’t have the adventurous lives that the others had so I suppose it’s inevitable. Anyway it certainly didn’t spoil the book.
Don’t miss this, it’s wonderful. It’s so good I’ve just ordered Jude Morgan’s backlist.
The Taste of Sorrow is a fictionalization of the lives of the Bronte sisters (and Branwell).
The story is well known but Jude Morgan tells it as well as anyone. This is no easy task. The lives of the Brontes were pretty miserable - a mixture of disease, death, deprivation and abstention. What is remarkable is that three such important writers could come from such humble beginnings and leave a legacy from such short lives.
The Taste of Sorrow is slow moving and carefully set out. Much is made of the childhood and relatively little is made of the writing. Where it differed from the traditional version was the portrayal of Patrick, the father, and Branwell as more rounded characters. Rather than being a dogmatic tyrant, a puritanical preacher, Patrick is portrayed as somewhat vulnerable, a little mean and distant, but a believer in the value of educating his daughters. The children are encouraged t read books and to feel free to read any book in the house. Branwell, for the most part, is seen to be a likeable man who suffers from the consequences of playing a role created for him by his father. Whilst he was not the brilliant, dashing prodigy of his father's dreams, neither was he the talentless drunken oaf of popular legend. For most of the novel it was not obvious that he would be eclipsed by his sisters.
The pace can be too slow at times. The text is dense and the novel feels longer than its 373 pages. On the other hand, the depth of characterization is wonderful and will certainly inspire me to seek out the Bronte sisters' original works (which, to my shame, I have never actually read).