The Gentleman Poet by Kathryn Johnson
ARC, Paperback, 336 pages
William Morrow Paperbacks
September 7, 2010
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Received from the author for review
“Many scholars believe one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays, The Tempest, was inspired by a shipwreck and true tale of survival that captured the imagination of 17th-century London. But what if the greatest playwright of all time didn’t simply read about the wreck of the Sea Venture off the Bermuda coast? What if Will was on board, fleeing powerful enemies, daring one last great adventure near the troubled end of his career?”This novel has it all: adventure, Shakespeare, romance, survival, sadness. The story of the shipwreck of the Sea Venture and the subsequent survival of its crew is fascinating and told in engrossing detail. You will certainly be hard-pressed to put this book down. It is a fast read that can be finished in one day and leaves you wanting to know more.
The story is told from the first person of Elizabeth and you feel all of her fear, frustrations and sadness. We get to experience through her the terror of a ship being tossed like a toy in a raging storm, we learn what it is like to be one of a handful of women on an island dominated by men, and we learn what it is like to come into our own as a woman. The other characters of the novel were well developed and I very much enjoyed the character who we later discover is Shakespeare. I loved how the author used this experience as the fodder behind Shakespeare’s later play. It gave you a sort of behind-the-scenes access.
I had never read anything before that takes place in the very start of colony life. These survivors really had to start from the ground up and figure out how to survive. One of the things that Elizabeth does is discover what plants are good to eat and brings them back to the camp. These foraging experiences brought to mind the experiences I had in the my primary school days playing the game Oregon Trail where you have to do the same thing. Also, as this colony is on Bermuda you really get the sense of fear and mysticism that surrounds this island - you learn a lot of this from the superstitious sailors.
The only issue I had with the book was with the ending. The whole novel builds up to this ultimate event and then in just a few short pages things change and the story ends. I felt a little let down because what you had been hoping for all along finally happens and then something happens which basically makes you feel like everything leading up to it was for naught and then it ends. I think if there had been maybe 20 more pages to frame out the ending I would have been more satisfied.
However, I truly did love this book and would encourage all to read it if you enjoy a good adventure story. You really don’t have to know anything about The Tempest to enjoy it - I didn’t read the play until after the novel - which encouraged me to seek out the original work.
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