New York Times
According to Queeneyby Beryl Bainbridge
Bainbridge's brilliantly imagined, universally acclaimed, Booker Prize-longlisted novel portrays the inordinate appetites and unrequited love touched off when the most celebrated man of eighteenth-century English letters, Samuel Johnson, enters the domain of a wealthy Southwark brewer and his wife, Hester Thrale. The melancholic, middle-aged lexicographer plunges
Bainbridge's brilliantly imagined, universally acclaimed, Booker Prize-longlisted novel portrays the inordinate appetites and unrequited love touched off when the most celebrated man of eighteenth-century English letters, Samuel Johnson, enters the domain of a wealthy Southwark brewer and his wife, Hester Thrale. The melancholic, middle-aged lexicographer plunges into an increasingly ambiguous relationship with the vivacious Mrs. Thrale for the next twenty years. In that time Hester's eldest daughter, the neglected but prodigiously clever Queeney, will grow into young womanhood. Along the way, little of the emotional tangle and sexual tension stirring beneath the decorous surfaces of the Thrale household will escape Queeney's cold, observant eye. "A dark, often hilarious and deeply human vision ... a major literary accomplishment."Margaret Atwood, Toronto Globe and Mail "...at the end of this luminous little novel ... we feel two losses ... the personal one and the loss to civilization."Richard Bernstein, New York Times "Dialogue and descriptions subtly and skillfully convey a sense not only of the period but also the personalities."Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times "[Bainbridge's] most accomplished novel so far."Washington Post Book World "Majestically deft.... Absolutely wonderful."Kirkus Reviews (starred)
New York Times
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On the morning of the 15th December, 1784, a day ofbleak skies heralding snow, a box-cart rattled into BoltCourt and drew up outside No. 8. Three men entered the houseand presently emerged carrying a roll of threadbare carpet asthough it were a battering ram.
Mrs. Desmoulins, shawl tight against her, remained on thesteps of the house and forced tears from her eyes. Though shefelt grief she was too old, too used to death, to weep without aneffort. She stood alone, save for a black and white cat busy washingitself. A number of neighbours came out and waited withbowed heads until the cart had gone from sight. From the openwindow of No. 6 could be heard the jangling of a spinet. Itwas not known whether Mr. Kranach, a man who summer andwinter wore a coat lined with the fur of a white wolf, wasserenading the departed or merely about his daily practice.
The conveyance turning into Fleet Street, a gaggle of urchinsran in pursuit and leapt for the tail-board, at which the driverflicked backwards with his whip. Frank Barber, walking behind,accompanied his master as far as the church of St. ClementDane's in the Strand; then, the bitter cold of the early hour gettingto his living bones, he ducked away and sought refuge in atavern.
Arriving in Windmill Street the cart trundled into the yardof William Hunter's School of Anatomy. The carpet was carriedto the top floor and laid on a dissecting table. A fire roared inthe grate and the air was filled with an aroma of herbs, that ofmint being the most pervasive. In the corner of the cosy room,a dog, half-flayed, hung from a hook in theceiling; above, thegrey heavens nudged the skylight.
Present that morning were the physicians Heberden,Brocklesby, Butter, Wilson and Cruikshank. Also in attendancewere Mr. Wilson's son, Arthur, and a Mr. White, neither ofwhom were as yet qualified in the practice of medicine.
Mr. White unrolled the carpet and removed the windingsheet. Arthur Wilson made the first incision, cutting downwardsfrom the thorax. A quantity of water spilled from the cavity ofthe chest and dripped onto the floor. Mr. White was told tothrow more herbs upon the fire to disperse the stink of dissolution.
Dr. Heberden made the second incision, this time across thestomach. He was troubled with a cough, and once, bending overhis departed patient, the force of his breath fluttered the deadman's eyelashes, at which Mr. White turned pale and swayedwhere he stood. Mr. Cruikshank, noticing his pallor, orderedhim to swallow a measure of brandy.
Later, under the instruction of his father, Arthur Wilson wrote the following report:
Opened the chest. Lungs did not collapse as they usually do, as though power of contraction lost.
Heart exceedingly strong and large.
Abdomen appeared to have incipient peritoneal inflammation and ascites.
Liver and spleen firm and hard.
A gallstone size of a pigeon's egg removed from bladder.
One kidney (left) quite good. That of the right entirely destroyed.
Left testicle sound in structure but with a number of hydatids (cysts) on surface. Right testicle likewise. Spermatic vein leading to it exceedingly enlarged and varicose.
Body, large in life, now somewhat shrunken, save for left leg swollen from the dropsy. Right leg, recently stitched following self-inflicted wound.
Left lung removed for perusal of John Hunter, also slice of scrotum and gallstone. Specimens transferred to jars. Mr. White pricked his middle finger when sewing up body. The following day had red lines running up arm and was laid low with slight fever
Afterwards, the fire dying and the candles lighted, Mr.Hoskins of St. Martin's Lane, sent to Windmill Street at therequest of Sir Joshua Reynolds, mounted the stairs to undertakea death mask. When the wax had cooled and he pulled away thecast, the eyelids were dragged open; he was too engrossed inscrutinising the imprint of the face to notice the staring aspectof the original.
The candles extinguished and the door locked, the dead manand the dead dog waited in darkness, gazing upwards to wheresnowflakes, star shaped, now fell upon the skylight.
Excerpted from According to Queeney by BERYL BAINBRIDGE. Copyright © 2001 by Beryl Bainbridge. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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