South China Morning Post

1 April 2016

A Man of Genius

by Janet Todd (read by Miriam Margolyes)

Craftsman Audio Books

4/5 stars

After a distinguished career researching everyone from Mary Shelley to Jane Austen, Janet Todd has tried her hand at that most tried-and-tested fictional genre: the Gothic. Her premise, which has kicked off movies as different as Romancing the Stone and Misery, is that an author, in this case Ann St Clair, becomes ensnared in a story worthy of her imagination. St Clair made her slightly invented-sounding name by writing cheap, popular penny dreadfuls whose success rescued her from a life of poverty: “Annabelle looked at the corpse. Hands and head separate.” Ugh. St Clair’s life, both literary and everyday, becomes entwined with that of Robert James, the sort of tortured genius that seemingly darkened every available craggy mountain circa 1819. Relocating to a vividly described Venice, the couple fall in love, only to land somewhere dark, violent and distinctly unromantic. As St Clair finds herself in over her head, she realises the image of the male genius (see Byron and Shelley) is not all it is cracked up to be. Esteemed British actress Miriam Margolyes clearly relishes the chance to read St Clair’s yeasted-up prose (“I will cross out the fluid and rotting meat,” she notes wryly). Margolyes can do James’ pompous, effete acolytes, and the ferocious desperation of James himself. An entertaining, thought-provoking historical novel beautifully read.

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