This book was a real find, and we stumbled on it, by chance, in the bargain bin at Dobbies Garden Centre, where it most certainly should never have been tossed.
In a time when poets are struggling to place work beyond sixty lines in most literary journals and anthologies, it’s very rare to find talent like this — talent of crafting real stories and narratives in verse. This book is nothing short of a work of genius. Told almost entirely in iambics, the story tracks an alternative history in which the playwright and poet Christopher Marlowe’s tavern-room brawl death is faked by his wealthy protectors and is reborn as Will Shakespeare. Make of that theory what you will — the Authorship Controversy and Marlowist theory have attracted enough debate elsewhere, and that’s not the point. See this work, if you will, as a piece of speculative fiction, an alternative history narrative in verse which is a true historical thriller and an incredible demonstration of poetic skill.
Barber eschews Middle English in this work, but nevertheless brings to life the Elizabethan era with a brilliance we’ve rarely seen matched, and the chapter-poems Reading epic stories in verse can take a little getting used to, even if you’re used to reading poetry. This is not a light read, but the rich texturing —almost metaphysical in places — goes right to the heart.
For students of history, for lovers of the historical thriller, and especially for poets writing in formal and classical styles, this book takes us back to a time when the lines between poetry and prose stories were less distinct. Absolutely wonderful.