All the Living, A Novel of a Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by Henrietta Buckmaster. To depict a figure as illustrious a Shakespeare in a work of fiction requires a courageous writer. Buckmaster tackles this task with energy; scenes spring to life and a very human Will emerges. Literature and life are entangled; we come to know the Fair Youth and the Dark Lady of the sonnets as complex characters and to appreciate the ominous threat the enticements of the Lady bring to his marriage with the stoical Anne Hathaway.
The year is 1600, and Shakespeare is obsessed with his latest project : writing Hamlet.
The first half of the book takes place in London, where Shakespeare and his partners at the Globe mount plays, drink boisterously in public rooms, and find themselves embroiled in palace intrigue. The abortive coup against Elizabeth I ends with the execution of Lord Essex. Fleeing London for his home in Stratford, Shakespeare reenters the world of domesticity. Hamnet, his son, has already died, but his two daughters are young adults. The world of small town England comes alive, replete with squabbles over property, dangerous superstitions concerning witchcraft, and badly needed reparation of ties with siblings, parents, children and wife.
Buckmaster creates a style which seems very close to that of the era. Often words spoken in conversation hark back or forward to words in the plays. Here is a random example:
Out for a walk with his young nephew Michael, they encounter Tib, a young witch.
Will saw then a sleepy toad pulsing his throat beside her. Michael squatted down beside the toad. “Where takes him thee?” he breathed, and she sang, crouching down beside him, “In a sieve, in a sieve, thither sail. Like a rat without a tail.”
Michael sang after her on two high notes, “I’ll do—I’ll do—I’ll do.”