In her latest novel, Tracy Chevalier has chosen William Blake as her inspiration, spinning a tale of how she imagines he may have been inspired to write one of his famous poems, “The Tyger”. Blake is not the main focus of the story though, and we are lead through 18th century London by the Jem, one of the Kellaway family who have just recently moved from Dorsetshire to the Lambeth area of London following a family tragedy, and Maggie, a born and bred London girl in the Butterfield family who acts as a guide to the strangers to the busy and frantic capital city. The Kellaways travel to the city after the owner of the circus offers to help them make business contacts in London. Even with the hustle and bustle of the city as well as the excitement of the circus to occupy them, it is their neighbours, William Blake and his wife, who intrigue Jem and Maggie.
This book, like Chevalier’s earlier novels, has a story that carries you along with characters you feel you know, and allows you to be transformed to the period and city that is evoked through dense description, even if a bit cliched at times. One complaint is that sometimes we stray from Jem and Maggie slightly too long as the focus changes to another of the Kellaway or Butterfield family.
You don’t need to know anything about William Blake to read this book, and he appears too briefly to get to know him, but then it’s not supposed to be a biography and he’s not supposed to be a main character. Unfortunately, this meant I didn’t feel that the author gave us a real feeling for the man, and short of a few quotes and a thorough description of the printing process, there was little to inspire me to find out more.
Having said all that, it’s a breezy, eventful story, not too taxing, and generally entertaining. If you liked “Girl With A Pearl Earring”, you’ll probably like this, but to get the best of Tracy Chevalier, I’d recommend “Falling Angels”.