8 April 2016, by Steve Barfield
A MAN OF GENIUS by Janet Todd (Bitter Lemon Press, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
Todd’s academic expertise on women writers and the Romantic period serves her well in this gripping, original historical novel with abundant thrills, spills and revelations.
Ann (perhaps a nod to Ann Radcliffe), the independent-minded protagonist, is a writer of successful, melodramatic, populist Gothic novels featuring innocent women pursued by manipulative villains. She falls head over heels into an obsessive passion for narcissistic, Romantic idealist and poet Robert James (a cross between Shelley and Lord Byron). His self-acknowledged genius conceals the darkness of madness and violence, as she discovers in Venice. Forced to flee or be consumed by this destructive relationship, she makes major discoveries about her psychological and social identity, like the typical heroine of her own and others’ Gothic novels.
A powerful sense of atmosphere is conjured up through Todd’s detailed descriptions, whether the setting is 1819 Regency London or Venice, while the vivid depiction of everyday life’s ephemera, the racy dialogue and elaborate mannerisms, all sound and feel authentic.