I dithered long enough before committing to read Ros Barber‘s The Marlowe Papers.
I’m no neo-Marlovian, no anti-Stratfordian – and this promised to be yet another tale of how Kit Marlowe didn’t die in Deptford, but lived to write Shakespeare’s canon… honestly, just how done is that? And yes, there was the intriguing notion of a novel in blank iambic pentameters – but was it enough to tempt me?
As I dithered, Santa Claus acted, and I found The MP under my Christmas tree, and since it was there, I decided I could have a look at it… and was entirely hooked by page three.
Because Ms. Barber takes the old tale and tells it in a fresh and imaginative and compelling way. And mind – the freshness doesn’t lie so much in the way she nicely weaves together known facts, gaps in knowledge, and wild speculation. She does it well, but others have done it before. What makes this book a delight is the first person narrator – Marlowe himself, of course, recounting his glories and misfortunes in verse for (perhaps) Thomas Walsingham.
We root for him as he more or less glibly walks to his ruin, short scene by short scene, in a whirl of arrogance, fiery genius, naivety, misplaced trust, longing, and doomed hopes. And goodness – it is gripping. All the more so for the restless, urgent pulse that Kit’s voice finds in the rhythm of the blank verse.
And yes – Ros Barber managed to sell me a tale I don’t much care for, by telling it so grippingly that I just forget what it is all about. I stop thinking of the slightly preposterous premise, and let myself be swept away by the story itself, its hero’s voice… Sheer word-magic. Can one ask more of a novel?
I absolutely adored this too. I haven’t actually seen any of Marlowe’s plays (though I have the Globe’s “Doctor Faustus” on DVD to be watched and if anyone did “Tamburlaine” I’d be there like a shot) but for some reason I keep finding myself drawn back to books about him. Like you I find the conspiracy theories desperately silly for the most part, and I was deeply wary of a novel written in iambic pentameter, but I loved it. I was swept away immediately, read the whole thing in a day and felt myself *thinking* in iambic pentameter for another day following. It was superb.
You’ll have read “A Dead Man in Deptford” then? I’ve just finished reading another novel about Marlowe, “To Be A King” by Robert DeMaria; it was published in the mid 1970s and is now more or less out of print, I think. I don’t know if you’ve come across that? I haven’t got round to posting on it yet but I enjoyed it far more than I expected – it’s not a million miles away from Burgess in spirit, to be honest.
la Clarina said:
Oh yes – the thinking in iambic pentameter afterwards… absolutely! 🙂
A Dead Man in Deptford is one of my favourite books ever. I adore the narrating voice, the language, things like Kit arguing with God in Rheims Cathedral… I’ve read it more than once, and it is one of those books I try to make people read – except I’m not overly fond of the one Italian translation, and the original is nothing you spring on unsuspecting non-anglophones unawares…
DeMaria is on my Kindle, and has been for some time. Unfortunately, the electronic version is a rather poor one – scanned from the printed book, I think, and in a font calculated to blind one by page four. If I am to read it, it will have to be on my pc’s much larger screen – something that, reading time being what it is, I haven’t managed to do yet. Still, I’m very intrgued and I most definitely will read it. If you post on it, it will be interesting to compare notes.
Another wonderful Marlowe-related novel is George Garrett’s Entered from the Sun. It is the account of a (fictional) investigation of poor Kit’s murder, told in a dizzyingly poetical and imaginative way… Do you know it?
And I stop here – because I can grow dangerous, once started on Marlowe and Marlowe-centred novels and plays.