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The Dickens boy : a novel
2022
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Library Journal Review
A new historical novel from Booker Prize winner Keneally (Schindler's List). At the tender age of 16, Edward Bulwer-Lytton Dickens (nicknamed Plorn), the youngest son of Charles Dickens, is sent to Australia to make something of himself. A poor scholar whose only training for this posting was a short stint in agricultural school, Plorn is secretly ashamed that he has not read any of his father's work. So it causes no end of embarrassment that wherever he goes in the remotest outback, he's treated as minor royalty and his father's words are quoted back to him. To earn his father's respect, Plorn applies himself diligently to the business of sheep farming under the enlightened tutelage of the Bonney brothers. But Plorn's pride in his accomplishments is undermined by his older brother Alfred, who had already been stationed in Australia and questions their father's motives in sending them to the convict colony. VERDICT Like the best historical fiction, this adventure-filled novel (featuring colorful scoundrels, fetching young women, suicide, scandals, and no small amount of Dickens lore), rings entirely true. A delightful read, warmly recommended.--Barbara Love, formerly at Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.
Publishers Weekly Review
Keneally's moving if diffuse latest (his 34th, after The Book of Science and Antiquities) follows the youngest son of Charles Dickens as he leaves Britain for Australia in 1868. Dickens sends the drifting, academically lackluster "Plorn," as Edward is known to family and friends, to work on a vast sheep station in the hopes that it will instill within the boy the drive he lacks. Under the mentorship of station manager Frederic Bonney, an intelligent Englishman fascinated by photography and the indigenous Paakantyi people still living on the land, Plorn's humility, hard work, and resourcefulness shine. Yet even in Australia, Dickens seems ever-present. The white people Plorn meets are awed to know the son of the man Bonney calls "the archpriest of humanity, the supreme master of story," and Plorn is too ashamed to admit he hasn't read any of his father's books. His older brother Alfred remains angered by Dickens's public separation with their mother, Catherine, 10 years earlier, but Plorn refuses to acknowledge his father's flaws. Later, as he masters a trade, falls in love, and witnesses Australia's growing pains, he struggles to accept his father's complexity. Though the series of episodes generate only mild suspense and largely reproduce the historical record, the author rewards with well-drawn physical and inner landscapes. Still, this is for Dickens obsessives only. (Nov.)
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