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April 18, 2016

Book Review || Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

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I became a fan of Tracy Chevalier after reading 'Girl With a Pearl Earring' and while 'Burning Bright' is still a beautiful historical novel, it does not stand out from the former novel in richness of detail, setting and character.

Set in 18th century London in the suburb of Lambeth, it attempts to give insight into poet and artist William Blake in the time before he is accused of being a revolutionary and supporting treasonous notions. Told through the eyes of London-born Maggie and Jem, a boy come to the city with his family from an out-of-the-way rural area, the plot is held together by their relations with Blake and a mystery that Maggie won't reveal to Jem, as well as the awakening sexual tension between the two adolescents.

My favourite aspects of historical novels are the potent details about life at the particular time, so I loved the conversations about buttony (and am actually inspired to seek out some tutorials about it!), the contrast between country and city life and those who dwell in each, and also the look at the Astley's circus. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the carpentry in which Jem and his father excelled.

However, I rather felt that William Blake was inserted into the story only to hold the plot together. There is not such personal insight into the artist as was seen in Chevalier's work on Vermeer and I rather felt I was reading only to alight on some information on, some personal experience with the poet, who was my favourite when I was younger. Yet we only see him through the eyes of Maggie and Jem who are  involved with him on the surface and rather spend most of their time spying on him and his wife. Although their interaction with him is fundamental to the plot, and while he reveals himself to be caring and interesting throughout, I feel as though I was robbed of an experience much more like that in a 'Girl With a Pearl Earring'. I suppose that much can be said of expectations.

Certainly it appears that the location and the overarching themes of the novel are its compelling points. London and its people are perfectly rendered in the mind's eye as are those from the country, while revolution, eccentricity, human rights, and even gender politics are some of the themes one is left to ponder instead of what makes a man like Blake intriguing and revolutionary.

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