The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber

tmpFrom now on, The Marlowe Papers will be what I think of when someone mentions “a challenging read”. This is a novel written in iambic pentametre written just a couple of years ago, as opposed to four hundred years ago when its protagonist, Kit Marlowe, lived. Reading it was intense, but also just thinking of the effort it must have taken to write was quite overwhelming.

The story is another revisit of the idea that Marlowe didn’t really die in a brawl, but he went into hiding and kept writing under the pseudonym of William Shakespeare. While I’m not a big fan of theories that say that Shakespeare’s works were written by someone else, I was fascinated by the complex, clever work that Ros Barber did.

It takes a while to get used to the writing for an eye that’s not used to the poetic structure, but after the initial trauma it becomes easier (not easy, but not impossibly hard either) to skip from line to line and follow the story while appreciating the form. Not that understanding everything is an easy task: every event on Marlowe’s timeline, every connection is justified by documents and evidence she collected while writing her PhD thesis, which this book is a part of.

While I had a recollection of who most of the noblemen and the most famous poets were, I was clueless about the rest of the characters (but also many events). The trick that made it easier for me to go through the book was to read Barber’s notes first, and then follow up with the chapter. It can be annoying to flip back and forth, but having an idea of who the people that get mentioned makes it so much easier to get into the story and focus on fighting with the pentametre rather than with the content. The rule to follow here is “choose your enemies”.

Being an expert in the field would have certainly helped, but I’m happy I wasn’t: having no idea if any of Barber’s connections were a bit of a stretch allowed me to be completely captured by her elaborate novel in verse. I loved every moment of my struggle with the pentametre, every flip of the pages to read an explanation. The Marlowe Papers could make as little historical sense as movie Anonymous does (although I doubt it) but I don’t know it and I don’t want to know.

After reading The Marlowe Papers I was completely enamoured of a figure that I had never really liked or cared for before. He told me his story in first person and, for once, I chose to believe this version of the facts until the end of the book.

These are obviously conjectures about Marlowe’s life — but do we care? Just building the plot of this book seems a serious academic adventure. The iambic pentametre is not perfect and Barber took some liberties with the language — again, do we care? The overall result is just so intriguing and surprising that the historical accuracy and formal imprecisions (which might be relevant for a PhD committee, but not as much for ordinary readers) can be overlooked.

Found via: For once, just browsing in the bookshop (Waterstones in Hampstead).
Suggested to: Patient, Elizabethan-era-loving readers.
Y/N? Y


No Rest For The Readers: Book Shopping at Oxfam Hampstead


As we walked into Oxfam Books in Hampstead, we could hear the echo of our bookshelves’ cries: “No, have pity on us, no more!”. We didn’t listen, or I wouldn’t have been taking pictures of my new books in the garden. With a budget of £20 to grab as much as we could and satisfy very different tastes in reading, my boyfriend had quite the adventure inside Oxfam. Despite it being a tiny shop, it has a fantastic selection, with lots of popular books as well as quirky bits, all in good to perfect condition. Here is a breakdown of what we got.


Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

These two books have been mentioned to me so many times that I probably had dreams about them. These are the obvious choices, the first two volumes I picked up. I’ve already finished A Visit From The Goon Squad and – spoilers – it’s fantastic.


World Without End by Ken Follett
Under The Dome by Stephen King

I’ll admit it: I forced my boyfriend to read Pillars Of The Earth earlier this year, so I was happy to see he spontaneously picked up the sequel, which is one of my favourite summer reads ever. Under The Dome was at £5 instead of £35, so he just had to get it – especially because it’s one of the few Stephen King books he hasn’t read, while I’m still struggling with The Dark Tower.


The Pope’s Rhinoceros by Lawrence Norfolk
All My Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman

We don’t quite know how to justify these ones. They looked interesting/funny, so we just went for it despite having no idea of what they were all about. Turns out the Portuguese tried to give the Pope a live rhinoceros as a present. For real.


The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber

We thought we’d escaped it, but no – as always, one does not simply walk into Waterstone’s. Our only full-price buy of the day has to do with my strange passion for the Shakespeare authorship question and its numerous variations. This is a novel in verse. Yay challenging reads!