Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mrs Pace and "the found poetry of precise reportage"

There's a very positive review by Tessa Hadley of my new book, The Most Remarkable Woman in England: Poison, Celebrity and the Trials of Beatrice Pace, in today's Guardian.

I'm not only pleased that she liked it but also that her very thoughtful review highlights a few specific things that were in fact very important to me while I was writing the book, such as capturing as far as I could the language of the time (or, rather, as she notes the various languages reflecting the specificities of class, region and profession).

Trying to imagine the past, it's the language we don't get right. Translating experiences out of the idiom of another era into contemporary expression is as fraught with loss as any translation between languages. John Carter Wood's book about the Pace trial works because of his sober and scrupulous assembly of the evidence, quoting the words that were spoken and written at the time so we can feel the textures of the material for ourselves – the found poetry of precise reportage.

She also emphasises the dramatic qualities of the (true) story, which is not only gratifying in itself -- that was, after all, what drove me to write the book in the first place -- but also particularly pleasing because, in the fairly arduous trek to finding a publisher, I heard doubts expressed on that very issue, along with the the opinion that nobody would be interested in the case as they didn't know about it already.

Yes, you hear a lot of odd things when you're trying to publish a book.

In any case, that helps to explain why this passage at the beginning of Hadley's review is such a joy for me to read:

Sometimes life is better than fiction. Is there any novelist who could have got this extraordinary story so perfectly right, inventing it: the violence at the heart of it, the suspense, the succession of revelations, the passions so raw and inchoate that they have a mythic force? And then there's the grand sweep of the narrative, beginning in the bleak poverty of an obscure cottage in the Forest of Dean, acted out finally on the national stage.

I don't expect all the reviews will be this positive (you can't, after all, please everyone), but after investing so much of myself in researching and telling this fascinating story, this is certainly a good start.

No comments: