Wednesday 18 April 2012

'A Lifetime Burning' by Linda Gillard

Reviewer: Susan Price.
Category: Adult

          This is Jacobean tragedy re-imagined.
          I came to that conclusion even before the heroine studied to become an actress and played Ophelia in the most famous of revenge tragedies.  There’s an adjustment to modern taste: the body count at the end isn’t as high as the Jacobeans liked it, and the hero doesn’t wander around with his sister’s heart on a dagger – well, only metaphorically, anyway.
Linda Gillard with her book 'Star Gazing'
          I’ve enormously enjoyed other books by Linda Gillard, such as Emotional Geology and House of Silence, but I think this moves up through several gears.  It’s an impressive and powerful book.
          But, if I’m honest, I was troubled by doubt as I read it.  I did wonder: Isn’t it all a bit OTT?
          Then I asked myself, is the story believable?  Do things like this ever happen?
          And also, being honest, the answer to both questions is,Yes.  More often than most rather pallid novels of modern life – which a friend once summed up as, ‘Unmarried mothers and unmanned lovers’ – would lead you to think.
House of Silence by Linda Gillard
          The characters of A Lifetime Burning are fully imagined and vivid.  I could see them, and hear them, and their motivations and emotions are such that you never doubt them.  They could, would, do no other.  And the book is beautifully written, the narrative controlled with great skill as it shifts between decades, covering a whole lifetime of burning, constantly giving us new perspective on the characters and events.
          But we’re thinner blooded than the Jacobeans, and usually prefer our drama to be more low-key.  Then we can call it ‘realistic.’  But in fact, real-life is not only more multiple than we think it, it’s frequently more OTT.  I remember as a child being told about a family friend, who was such a disaster magnet that, as catastrophe piled on catastrophe, I started to laugh, and was told off for being unsympathetic.  An acquaintance has a love-life resembling an annexe of Bedlam, and I’ve known people who, if their lives did happen to be calm for a moment, immediately took actions that any cool observer could easily predict would create havoc.  The only conclusion is that they craved uproar and couldn’t bear calm.  Drama queens, in fact.
Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard
          In that sense, the Jacobeans had a more accurate idea of 'realism' than us, and so does ‘A Lifetime Burning’.  In fact, come to think of it, in comparison to the aforementioned real lives, it’s far more credible, perhaps because we know the people from the inside.
          If you want a sweet love-story, tied up with a pink bow, and happy-ever-afters, then A Lifetime Burning isn’t for you. Jacobean tragedies are never sweet, and never end happily. They are vivid and gripping.
          I do wonder that the heroine plays Ophelia, instead of taking part in the play which would have supplied the most apposite quote, from the Jacobean tragedy to beat them all: My sister, O my sister! there's the cause on't. Whether we fall by ambition, blood, or lust, Like diamonds, we are cut with our own dust.’ (Webster’s Duchess of Malfi.)

Linda's Gillard's 'A Lifetime Burning'  can be found here.

Susan Price is an award winning author, and has recently published several ebooks.
She blogs here:

Susan Price also contributes to Do Authors Dream of Electric Books? 



Anonymous said...

I am a huge fan of Linda Gillard. I only discovered her recently and am sadly reading the last of her books, Star Gazing, at the moment. Can't wait until her new book comes out in September.


julia jones said...

I've just aquired three of Linda Gillard's books and think I will do my usual practice of reading them in chronological order for the pleasure of watching her development and adjustments as a writer.

Linda Gillard said...

Thanks, Susan, for this unusual review. I was thrilled to read it. I'm a big fan of Jacobean Revenge Tragedy and made a special study of it at uni where I read Drama, so perhaps something rubbed off! Actually while I was writing A LIFETIME BURNING I kept thinking of it in terms of opera. I think that's what you've picked up on too - that larger-than-life-quality (except that nothing is larger than life. As a novelist, I find I'm always having to scale down real life to make it more convincing.)

ALB is my personal favourite of my books. It was "that difficult 2nd novel". ;-)

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