May 26, 2016, by Cynthia Johnson
Todd, Janet. A Man of Genius. Bitter Lemon. Apr. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781908524591. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781908524607.
[DEBUT] When Ann St. Clair, a writer of gothic novels, first meets Robert James at a literary gathering, she, like all his Grub Street friends, is awed by his brilliance. Her admiration deepens into something much more powerful and intimate, but as the couple flee to post-Napoleonic Europe in search of freedom of expression and inspiration, Robert’s brilliance deteriorates into mania and paranoia. Like her heroines, Ann finds herself trapped in a hopelessly dark and complex web of dependence and fear that though it is of her own making is no less deadly. Making her fiction debut, noted British literary scholar Todd has crafted a psychologically haunting and disturbing tale as full of mystery, exotic foreign places, and questions of parentage as any penned by her protagonist, whose journey back to understanding and shaky self-reliance (after a fortuitous rescue by a mysterious stranger) is almost antigothic in its conclusion.
Verdict Devotees of Ann Radcliffe (The Mysteries of Udolpho) and other authors of the gothic literary tradition will enjoy this atmospheric novel.—Cynthia Johnson, formerly with Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, MA