I guess I probably read this one way too soon after two very similar, a better other novels that cover a lot of the same ground. This novel is in the same tradition as novels like Possession, G., and Tim Powers’s The Anubis Gates. It’s about a literary figure of yore, one Thomas Chatterton, whose biography tells us was a young poet who wrote a series of poems, and died tragically at 18 from suicide. This is made even more mythic by his connections to other famous poets and his position in history (1752-1770) as late Neo-classical/early Romantic poetry.
The novel though begins with a book being found, a discovery being made, and an amateur sleuth stumbling upon evidence that Thomas Chatterton perhaps did not die at 18, but instead went into hiding and became an infamous forger of poetry.
The reason why I think this book is less successful than those other examples from above is that they spend a long time (and they’re all much longer) more carefully laying the groundwork for the discovery. By the time we start to see the literary mystery unfold in The Anubis Gates for example, we’re fully enmeshed in the novel (about 150 pages in), and in Possession we get the passion of the researchers guiding us and providing the stakes. Here, we are thrown in and told to care, but not given a clear reason to care. So while the writing is really interesting the and figures bound up in this story compelling in a lot of ways, the actual search and discovery are at the level of conceit, rather than reward.