Review: Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor

Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor

Published: June 16, 2020 by Europa Editions

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Synopsis: 1878- The Lyceum Theatre, London. Three extraordinary people begin their life together, a life that will be full of drama, transformation, passionate and painful devotion to art and to one another. Henry Irving, the Chief, is the volcanic leading man and impresario; Ellen Terry is the most lauded and desired actress of her generation, outspoken and generous of heart; and ever following along behind them in the shadows is the unremarkable theatre manager, Bram Stoker. Fresh from life in Dublin as a clerk, Bram may seem the least colourful of the trio but he is wrestling with dark demons in a new city, in a new marriage, and with his own literary aspirations. As he walks the London streets at night, streets haunted by the Ripper and the gossip which swirls around his friend Oscar Wilde, he finds new inspiration. But the Chief is determined that nothing will get in the way of his manager?s devotion to the Lyceum and to himself. And both men are enchanted by the beauty and boldness of the elusive Ellen. This exceptional novel explores the complexities of love that stands dangerously outside social convention, the restlessness of creativity, and the experiences that led to Dracula, the most iconic supernatural tale of all time.

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Europa Editions!***

Through this entire book I got the feeling that I should be liking it more than I actually did. I felt like I should have been more motivated to read it than I was. I put the book down and it seemed to leave my thoughts. Often, I wouldn’t remember to pick it back up for days at a time. Then when I would pick it back up I felt no excitement for it, but found the story enjoyable.

So, in the end, I decide that I liked this book but it was forgettable. I loved the characters of Bram Stoker and Henry Irving. The two of them together were utterly delightful. Their banter was my absolute favorite part of this book. I could have read an entire of the exchanges between the two of these men.

I also loved the progression of Bram’s character. He starts out as the unwilling manager of a mismanaged theater who occasionally writes and turns into a passionate writer who has a family to support. I appreciate it when characters have a logical progression in a story and this one did. It also seemed fitting that the style of the novel was structured like a play. It was one of those things that didn’t distract from the story but I could nod to the author and think “I see what you did there. Nicely done.”

The biggest flaw this book had was the minutiae. There was just so many words. We did not need an entire 40 pages of Bram’s diary entries. We did not need a whole chapter on the accounting that goes into running a large theater. We got more than 100 pages in before they even had a play at the theater! I struggled to get to the good parts because there was just so much extra crap that did not need to be there.

3 thoughts on “Review: Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor

  1. Doing hundreds of pages of research – and condensing it into a paragraph here, a paragraph there – is very hard. But it is also essential.

    The author needs to know this stuff – so the tiny bits used have the right flavor. The reader just needs to notice that there is flavor.

    You don’t want your reader to skim.

    The time for the Moby Dick style of writing was before TV and movies, when audiences needed to learn some of those things, and could not possibly have known them otherwise.

    Right now it’s called padding.

    Interestingly enough, TV, extended to several seasons with many episodes, is now suffering from padding, too.

    1. I can obviously tell this author did his research and that he wanted his book to feel authentic. Went overboard though. If I wanted a compendium of early Bram Stoker I would read that, this was supposed to be a novel for entertainment. Sometimes in historical fiction the author loses their way and this was one of those moments.

      1. Sometimes in any fiction. It’s difficult to do all that research and not actually use much of it verbatim, but it flavors all the novel better if it’s used lightly.

        I read, in great detail, a book called Shooting to Kill, by Christine Vaschon. She’s a producer of indie films, and this is almost a manual, but is interspersed with anecdotes from the shooting of the films she’s been involved with. Gold.

        I keep coming back to it for details when I need them, even though Pride’s Children has several blockbuster movies described (not the less expensive indies); though there will be one little art film, it is destined for Cannes, not Sundance.

        I need to know everything – but readers do not. It is just backdrop for the story.

        Research can be time-consuming, but it can also be fun.

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