The Rookwood Family Papers edited by Francis Young (Boydell Press, £25). The Rookwoods of Coldham Hall had a terrible track record when it came to choosing political causes. Family members were involved in the Gunpowder Plot, supported the Royalists in the Civil War, and revisited the risky path of regicide during the reign of William III. Yet they managed to emerge as one of Suffolk’s wealthiest Catholic families. We encounter grumbles about recusancy fines and wills, and stunningly detailed accounts of family possessions and reading habits. A treasure trove for historians.
The Fall of the House of Wilde by Emer O’Sullivan (Bloomsbury, £25). The author depicts the family of Oscar Wilde in the style of a novel by Edgar Allan Poe. Thus Oscar’s father’s brilliant successes were followed by the drunken excesses of his elder son, Willie, the poverty and despair of his widow, Jane, and the very public ruin of his younger son. This complex cautionary tale is marred by its disjointed narrative and too great attention to unnecessary detail. Oscar is shown as a brilliant and decadent dandy, rather than a serious artist brought down by his own folly.
A Luminous Brotherhood by Emily Suzanne Clark (University of North Carolina Press, £25). This fascinating volume tells the tale of the Cercle Harmonique, a group that embraced the 19th-century fascination for spiritualism. The members were of African descent and found great sustenance in the messages they claimed to have received from the beyond. Ethereal visitors to seances ranged from Lincoln to Confucius and from Rabelais to Robespierre. The group also used meetings to forge ideas about political activism and social reform, and shore up their faith in the promise of the Republic.
Pedigree by Patrick Modiano (MacLehose Press, £8.99). Unlike the French Nobel Prize-winner’s other books, Pedigree is not fiction but autobiography – though it would be hard to tell, as part of this writer’s genius is his ability to weave his own mysterious life through the pages of his even more mysterious novels. Early on, Modiano tellingly explains that the early death of his brother is the only thing in the book that means anything to him. This is a wonderful portrait of loss, history and the impossibility of ever recovering the past.
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