The Bard is everywhere at the moment thanks to the World Shakespeare Festival which began on the date of his supposed birthday and definite demise, 23 April. Perfect timing for a new book from an excellent storyteller, Jude Morgan, who has written several historical novels including the critically acclaimed A Taste of Sorrow about the Bronte sisters.
In this intelligent and very readable novel, Morgan takes advantage of the fact that little is really known about the man behind the prolific playwright, so he is able to fill in the blanks with his own interpretation of the sparse facts.
Possibly going against the commonly held belief that Shakespeare may have been in a loveless marriage with Anne Hathaway, Morgan creates a much more affectionate bond between the two, with plausible explanations for why Shakespeare would have left his wife and young family to find his fortune within the theatrical community in London. Interestingly, although the story speculates on the relationships Shakespeare has with colleagues such as Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson, the most compelling parts of the novel, to me, are those when Anne is involved in the narrative. Morgan pours much warmth and likeability into her character, so much so that I became a firm supporter of her and found myself wishing her errant husband would just get himself back home.
Morgan cleverly speculates on the events which might have been the inspiration for his plays but the novel doesn’t become muddled with too much of Shakespeare’s actual writing. It is not a heavy tome; rather, a simple story of a man who is torn between being a dutiful husband on one hand, and desperate to find an outlet for his talent on the other. Jude Morgan manages to tell this tale with exceptional attention to detail using that very same talent for lifting the English language into something quite beautiful.
The Secret Life of William Shakespeare is available from Headline publishers. Trade Paperback, £12.99