A Fatal Likeness by Lynn Shepherd
Pub Date: August 20, 2013
Telling the story of Percy Bysshe Shelley‘s dramatic life, Shepherd manages to create a story all her own. Rather than focusing on the biographical events, she weaves together the silences. Much like what Faye did for Jack the Ripper in Dust and Shadow, Shepherd does here. The result is an oddly satisfying story of intrigue. But let me offer a work of caution, if you hold the great poets in high esteem this is very much the wrong book for you!
I was bowled over with the beautiful language in this book and Shepherd’s odd manner of story telling. A Fatal Likeness is told in the third person omniscient, but the narrator is very much from the present century. Often in the middle of a story about Shelley’s day, the narrator interjects with the event’s significance in the future. Alluding to the future could distance some readers from the story at hand, particularly those who aren’t familiar with the literary facts. For a lit major like myself, it was just the right touch of jocularity to break up the serious tone of the book.
That being said, there were two points that didn’t sit well with me. Firstly on a feminist front it was disappointing to read the women in this book. They’re all strong and mostly powerful but they’re also manipulative, conniving and to some extent evil. There was an opportunity to show at least one positive female character and Shepherd didn’t take it. Secondly, the story itself is belabored. Points are occasionally overwrought in an attempt to make a coherent story out of the available history. The result is frustrating and confusing — though this has as much to do with Shepherd’s story as it does with the events that inspired it.
Overall the writing and the odd moments of humor redeem what might have otherwise been an overwrought story. I highly recommend it for the irreverent English major or anyone looking for an alternate literary history.