West's gifts as a writer are considerable ( Rat Man of Paris ; The Place in Flowers Where Pollen Rests ). But this engorged and fussy novel, based on the diary of Byron's personal physician, John William Polidori, may lose some fans. Though initially amusing in its outrageously Rabelaisian bawdry, the overwrought period style soon palls. Polidori, who wrote The Vampyre , was commissioned by Byron's publisher to keep a diary on the poet, which was considered too scurrilous to print at the time (it was published in 1911). West's version of the diary provides raucous accounts of the two men's sexual escapades as they journey to Italy. They join Percy and Mary Shelley at the Villa Diodati, followed by Byron's mistress Claire Clairmont. The latter begins an affair with Polidori and bears a child that may be his, not Byron's. Treated with affectionate contempt by Byron, Polidori was intrigued by ``the flesh and its rampages,'' and has a prurient as well as remedial interest in the generative organs and their diseases. One of the novel's best rendered scenes is the account of his suicide at age 26, by drinking a cocktail of poisons. On the whole, however, this novel is notable more as a curiosity than as a literary achievement. (Sept.)
Lord Byron's doctor was John Polidori, whom he hired as a traveling companion on his trip to the Continent in 1816. West's novel re-creates the diary that Polidori had been commissioned to keep but that never saw print. The inevitable question is, Would it have appeared in this form? More to the point, Should it now? Polidori was an inexperienced young man out of his depth. His ``diary'' reveals him as petulant and petty, both enamored and envious of Byron and his circle (``Lord B. and Percy Bitch''), and a born complainer. In his effort to probe the man's psyche, West has produced a document that's shapeless, repetitious, and dispiriting. Libraries will do better to check their holdings for Frederic Prokosch's far more readable Missolonghi Manuscript ( LJ 12/15/67).-- Grove Ko ger, Boise P.L., Id.
An intellectual romp of a book with its dark, brooding, age, Lord Byron's Doctor offers further evidence of Paul West's courageous imaginative skill.
-- The Chicago Tribune