Friday, September 14, 2007

book of books - Imposture

Most of the time the books I read have been written by people who have been six feet under for quite a while. Part of the reason is that there is some comfort knowing that a book has stood the test of time and been deemed a ‘classic’ by plenty of people. The other reason is that most of the modern stuff just doesn’t grab you in the same way. This book ironically is written as if it was something produced in the last century.

Benjamin Markovits starts using a literary device that sets it up and established the theme of imposture. There is nothing wrong with that but the problem throughout this book is that it is hard to ever really care about the main character. Not only is he pretending to be some one else but also he is pretending to be someone clearly more confident.

Plot summary
A young doctor who is drifting through life with no purpose is given the chance to become Lord Byron’s travel companion as the poet escapes his creditors and a divorced wife and heads to the continent. During the trip the famous incident with Mary and Percy Shelly, which gave birth to Frankenstein is covered but is the doctor John Polidori who writes The Vampyre. Things start with the book, which is mistaken for the work of Byron, and as he waits to complain to the publisher a young woman, who herself pretends to have met Byron before meets him and manages to get his address out of him. She then sets her sights on being seduced by him and in the end after Polidori reveals how he burnt his bridge with Byron, who made him feel inadequate and then seduced his sister. And runs up some debts the truth is finally revealed. Polidori takes his own life as things fall apart around him. He loved his sister, and not necessarily it is hinted in a purely platonic way, he dreamt of being a writer and he wanted to be loved. Byron did all of those things better than him and in the end he could not live in the shadow of the man he had pretended to be.

Is it well written?
It is a little bit like - male scene then female scene alternatively - until they intertwine and then it ends with the conclusion, which makes it a bit like reading a movie. The problem is that Polidori is a disturbed pathetic man struggling to get over his guilt of letting down his father, sister and Byron as well as finding out what his real purpose is in life. He fails at everything and seems to only succeed when he pretends to be Byron, which in the end makes him even more miserable. You get the point before the end and there are moments where you feel it is put on a bit thick. Plus having introduced a literary device where an old English teacher shares his writings there is not reference back. The style is almost nineteenth century but at the same time clearly written in much more modern times. The theme works but the only criticism would have been to maybe take the foot off the failure pedal at some points and make Polidori slightly more likeable and as a result the story would probably have been even more tragic.

Should it be read?
Hard one to answer that because there is no particularly compelling reason you should. But I suspect that is purely because of my prejudice against modern literature. What would I necessarily pick up anything – recommendation on another blog might help but it’s a minefield. In fairness if this is read then it is a well-written story and certainly a story that has been well researched and will not leave you with any unanswered questions. A quick check on Wikipedia indicates that most of the story was built around the true story of Polidori.

Pretending to be someone else might get you a bit of money and female attention but when the truth comes out sadly an overdose is the only ending possible

Version read – Faber & Faber paperback


Eloise said...

I have the same aversion to modern literature, it is too often a let down. This sounds like an interesting story, but perhaps one which would have been better as a work of non-fiction.
I really enjoy reading your blog, by the way.

simon quicke said...

Eloise, thanks so much for the kind comments it gives a real lift when people say nice things. Thank you.