Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Book of books - Pepys the unequalled self

This review is posted because it ties in with the idea of the plague slightly, because Pepys lived through the 1665 London outbreak and because it is a diary, the form of narration chosen in Nausea.

This book by Claire Tomalin was a great surprise because I had expected it to be about the diaries and very little else but it contained a much fuller picture.

Pepys is world-renowned for his diaries, which present a view into the world of 17th Century London life which is unparalleled. But this book is about much more and covers the period of his life before he kept diaries and towards the end when he no longer was able to write them. Pepys had a remarkable life mingling with royalty, the navy and living at a time of plague and the Great Fire of London.

Is it well written?
There is a great deal of information here and it is understandably richer when the diaries are there as a resource and it does tail off a bit towards the end when the commentary gets patchier because charting his movements becomes a question of referring to mentions in other sources. But what keeps you going right through to the end is the readable way this historical biography is written it is a very readable book.

Is it worth reading?
The problem with any biography is that people are turned off or on by the subject and so there will be some readers who opt to avoid this because they believe they are not interested in Pepys. It is a wider book than that and provides a window on a lost world that is interesting above and beyond Pepys.

Leads to
Tomalin has another book out now, a biography of Thomas Hardy. Again he might not appeal to everyone but you know this will be more than just his life story and will weave a picture of Dorset in days gone past. Otherwise it is a case of being inspired by Pepys and reading about the plague, fire or naval history. Otherwise Liza Picard’s Restoration London is about the 1660s.

Version read - Penguin

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