Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Longlisted for the 2008 Man Booker Prize, Arnold's accomplished debut is a fictionalized take on the tumultuous marriage of Charles and Catherine Dickens. On the day of famed writer Alfred Gibson's public funeral, his estranged widow, Dorothea (Dodo), sits alone in her small London apartment, reminiscing about "the One and Only." Although caring deeply about his public image as a family man, Alfred's actual relationship with his brood is fraught by his egomaniacal demands and philandering, his career eclipsing everything else. Dodo wishes she could climb onto the page, become one of her husband's protagonists and cajole him to pay attention to her. After years of marriage, Alfred casts Dodo out of the family home after taking up with a mistress, publicly shaming her, and admonishing their children not to visit her. After Alfred's death, Dodo grapples with the choice of emerging from her self-imposed exile or remaining in seclusion without facing the public who revered him. Arnold's impeccable research paints an entirely different portrait of Dickens than that assumed by readers of his fiction. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Engrossing examination of the life and failed marriage of a hugely popular Victorian novelist (read: Charles Dickens). Arnold's confident debut offers a sympathetic, intensely readable account of the mixed blessings of living with a vast, restless and charismatic talent destined to become a national institution. Alfred Gibson is a playful but penniless actor/playwright/legal clerk when he meets unworldly Dorothea Millar, daughter of a benefactor. But he is a man full of energy, charm and humor, a workaholic whose undying fear is of returning to poverty, and whose ceaseless writing will eventually transform him into "the One and Only," a celebrity beloved by and in thrall to the Public. Dorothea, initially dazzled by Alfred, sinks slowly into disenchantment, growing stouter but feebler through eight pregnancies, gradually frozen out of the marriage by her passivity, weak health and social shortcomings. Narrated by Dorothea after Alfred's death, the novel reveals how she was bullied by her husband, who increasingly lavished his affections on younger, slimmer, more childlike women (much like her sister Alice, whose premature death Alfred mourned with inappropriate fervor). Finally, he forced her to sign a separation agreement, and ten years of isolation followed. But the Great Man's death marks a turning point, with Dorothea reconnecting to her estranged family and coming to terms with Alfred's character. Drawn out and indicative of sudden changes in its heroine, this last section is the weakest in an otherwise appealing novel. Humane and plausible. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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