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A Dead Man In Deptford (2003)

A Dead Man in Deptford (2003)

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3.83 of 5 Votes: 3
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0786711523 (ISBN13: 9780786711529)
da capo press

About book A Dead Man In Deptford (2003)

This is a book about Christopher Marlowe, based on 'The Reckoning' by Charles Nicholl. I thought that this book was extraordinary in that it conveys the 'vibe' of what it might be like to be in Elizabethan England. It accomplishes this through an immersion in detail and amazing original prose that could only have been written by Anthony Burgess. The prose is not Elizabethan, but instead is a sort of Elizabethan Nadsat-- an invented a slang that combines Elizabethan and modern English so that it conveys both the tone of the time, and a take on Elizabethans' relationship to language. The book also captures the time's violence, superstition, and the impact of its politics on people's lives. Here is a excerpt that takes in some of that:And he would cross the river to the Bankside, to visit the loud and bloody world where Henslowe ruled, where paid venery could not be free of the consort of bulls bellowing and bears roaring for bass, dogs howling, yapping, screaming for alto and treble. And now and then there was a crying ape that rode a dog's back, and was rent, dog too, by the other dogs. In the Paris Garden house where Henslowe kept his geese there was a back room where gander goslings might be tupped for a tester. Kit's presence in a manner remained after his departure in the token of a tobacco reek, for he would pleasure his lungs with the nymph while he indulged the satyr in is loins. Some, though not often to his face, spoke of Mr TS, the tobacco sodomite. It was in the April of the year 1588, for which the stars of their scryers made monstrous predictions, that Kit heard himself called in an alehouse, which was as good a public place, by the name atheist. This was grave, this was perilous, this was worse than an ascription of disbelief in God, of meaning denial of the authority of England's holy Church it meant also denial of the Queen her right to rule it and the realm over which it was an unsleeping Paraclete. But the word was uttered by none in authority, merely by the ruffians William Bradley and George Orwell, who sat at their ease at a table in the corner by the door of the Unicorn.--Mr Marlin the ace, he is.--Pardon me?--Atheist, he means, Bradley said. He has never seen the word writ down.

I am not sure I would have persevered with this novel had I been reading rather than listening to the audiobook version, which is excellently performed. The language has an Elizabethan flavour, rich and ripe but rather dense so it takes a while to get into. At first I wasn't sure half the time what characters were saying, and my confusion was never entirely dispelled, but for all that, Burgess' renowned clever way with words gives his story authenticity without resort to the Gadzooks! and Odds-bodkins kind of historical fiction. I stopped trying to make sense everything and just went with it, the strength of the story and its characters pulling me in. What a rich and entertaining brew it is, too: treason, espionage, torture, gay sex (in discreet Latin, mostly), murder, theatre and tobacco! In this age of UKIP, there are topical passages concerning rising tensions over the influx of French Huguenots taking jobs from native Englishmen. Burgess writes an engaging and very convincing Christopher...Merlin, Marley, Morley. Marlowe will do, as Kit explains, the lower orders don’t have fixed names, poet & playwright, reluctant spy, lover of boys and tobacco, a life cut short under mysterious circumstances concerning an argument over who should pay for a pub meal. A romping good read, with wit and humour, tragedy and pathos, and an exceedingly well crafted atmosphere that transports you to an exciting, fascinating and very dangerous time/place.

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Anthony Burgess’s novels often promise rather more than they deliver – not that they don’t deliver, it’s just that they promise so much. It’s the downside of being too clever, generous and prolific for your own good, I suppose. A remarkable writer, always interesting, invariably frustrating.‘A Dead Man in Deptford’ is one of the exceptions. It promises, and it delivers, in equal measure. A late work, not overly long, it is the sordid and amoral story of Kit Marlowe, playwright. What is most remarkable is the language that Burgess creates to tell the story: not Elizabethan pastiche, but something much more interesting. It is sinewy, archaic, vernacular, obscure, poetic. In its way, the language is as much of an achievement as Burgess’s notorious ‘nadsat’, the argot that he created for ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and a lot more subtle. All historical writers should be required to study this book closely.

I loved A Dead Man in Deptford from the very first page. Burgess' prose style really evokes the period and he makes a Kit a memorable and loveable character; I just adored him from start to finish. The prose style does make this a little stodgy at times, considering it is only a short novel, but I didn't find that a detraction in this instance. If anything, I had to remind myself it was only fiction a couple of times, and I ended the book with a desire to read some more scholarly works on Marlowe's life, and to re-watch Doctor Faustus and dig out my old Edward II programme from the Globe production.This is a wonderful read for fans of historical literary fiction and for those interested in the Elizabethan period and theatre history.
—Nicki Markus

Anthony Burgess is a masterful novelist whose playful sense of linguistics informs this wonderful novel that speculates about the life and death of Shakespeare's contemporary, the playwright Christopher Marlowe. Burgess has steeped himself in the history and language of Elizabethan times, and the result is a completely successful evocation of that era in all its beauty and horror, with its philosophic adventurers bravely seeking truth and its dogmatic religious authorities plunging nations into war. Intellectually challenging and emotionally moving, this is one of the finest novels I have read in quite a while.
—David Bonesteel

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