Published by Duckworth Press towards the end of 2012 I had the great pleasure of reviewing this book for newbooks magazine and it is one that demands to be read and re-read. Michael Dean has produced a thoroughly entertaining novel and has brilliantly captured eighteenth century London. The artist William Hogarth narrates his story with a lusty vitality which keeps the reader enthralled throughout. Dean has formed him into an immensely likeable character surrounded by other characters the reader really gets to care about. This is a triumph of a historical novel. It feels like it dates from the eighteenth century and this can only be achieved through immaculate research which plunges us seamlessly into Hogarth’s London. I haven’t before quoted from a novel in any of my reviews but I want to show how Dean in his opening paragraphs really sets the scene for what is to come.
“I was born beside a printer’s owned by a certain Mr Downinge of Bartholemew Close, East Spitalfields. As I was born, the stink of ink filled my nostrils. The clank of prints as they were made assailed my ears the very instant I barged my way out of my mother.
My fate was sealed, then, even as the midwife grasped me by the ankle with a cry of ‘Gotcha! You slippery boy!’ I was born to make images, prints and paintings. William Hogarth, Serjeant Painter at the Court of George II, phizmonger to the high and mighty. At your service out I came.
I was born, then, but I was not yet finished, not yet complete. What my father called the ‘Finger of God’ had not yet been laid upon my head. That happened some seven years later.
Want to read on? I’m not surprised as this opening reeks of authenticity and the quality never drops. A quick bit of research on my part suggests that Dean has not strayed too far from the facts as they are known but has presented them with exuberance and feeling. If anyone wants to know how to create first-rate autobiographical fiction here is an excellent example.
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