Welcome to the nbmagazine.co.uk stop on the blog tour for Arguing with the Dead by Alex Nye!
Here’s a little info about the book:
The year is 1839, and Mary Shelley – the woman who wrote Frankenstein – is living alone in a tiny cottage on the banks of the river Thames in Putney. As she sorts through the snowstorm of her husband’s scattered papers she is reminded of their past: the half-ruined villas in Italy, the stormy relationship with Shelley and her stepsister Claire, the loss of her children, the attempted kidnapping of Claire’s daughter Allegra from a prison-like convent in Florence. And finally, her husband’s drowning on the Gulf of Spezia as they stayed in a grim-looking fortress overlooking the sea. What she has never confided in anyone is that she has always been haunted by Shelley’s drowned first wife, Harriet, who would come to visit her in the night as she slept with her two tiny children in a vast abandoned villa while Shelley was away litigating with lawyers. Did Mary pay the ultimate price for loving Shelley? Who will Harriet come for next?
And about author Alex Nye:
Alex Nye is an award-winning children’s author. She grew up in Norfolk by the sea, but has lived in Scotland since 1995 where she finds much of her inspiration in Scottish history. At the age of 16 she won the WH Smith Young Writers’ Award out of 33,000 entrants, and has been writing ever since. Her first children’s novel, CHILL, won the Scottish Children’s Book of the Year Award. She likes to spend her time walking her dog, swimming, scribbling in notebooks, and tapping away on her laptop. She also teaches and delivers workshops on creative writing/ghost stories/Scottish history. She graduated from King’s College, London, more years ago than she cares to admit. Arguing with the Dead is Alex’s second historical novel for adults following the critically acclaimed For My Sins.
And here’s Gill Chedgey’s review of Arguing with the Dead:
As soon as I saw ‘Mary Shelley’ mentioned in the book spec my interest was piqued, together with my customary, default, dubious mode when someone decides to write a fictionalised account of a notable person in whom I have an interest. It can go so wrong. Your own vision of that person can be exploded, the text can be peppered with what you perceive to be inaccuracies. It’s a gamble, I can tell you!! But it can go right. It can portray that person just as you imagine them to be, put the exact words in their mouths that you can hear them say. It can develop and enhance your interest and knowledge of that person and render them realer than they were before.
So, I hear you ask, did Alex Nye get it wrong? Or did she get it right? Well, my dear reader, for this reader anyway, she got it damn right!!! I think the real trick was that Ms. Nye seemed to get into the head of Mary Shelley so convincingly. For many people Frankenstein is the sum of Mary Shelley, and a celluloid vision at that. Perhaps they’ll acknowledge that she was married to Shelley the poet, but of course she was so much more and this delightful novel explores and exploits that and paints a full and vivid portrait of this fascinating woman.
The story begins with an older Mary living in Putney and starting to reminisce about her life. It sets the scene and offers us some fundamentals about Mary, not least her love of travel and the natural world There are hints and suggestions that draw the readers attention back to the title, allusions to phantoms and we are also reminded of Shelley’s place as a gothic novelist by the mood conjured in these opening passages. She is editing and anthologising her late husband’s oeuvre too, so the reader is swiftly offered the necessary knowledge to support their reading and interpretation of the ensuing narrative.
We return fleetingly to the older Mary in Putney but the bulk of the novel tells us the story of Mary’s life and loves, from young girl to mature woman. It would be a disservice to detail much more because it is an engrossing account of a somewhat unconventional life being lived in conventional times and all the hardships that can entail. The story concludes as it began, in Putney, in a vaguely supernatural, eerie atmosphere.
Nye’s portrayal of Percy Shelley supports our, possibly cliched, view of the romantic poet, idealistic, fey, potentially unreliable. But she goes beyond our cliches to show the depth of Mary’s love for him, oh, how else could she possibly have put up with that optimistic enthusiasm of his?! But the depiction of the dynamic between these characters, and others in the book, serve to offer us an insight into Victorian feminism and what it meant in this times. For Mary Shelley was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, supreme advocate of women rights. And I think what Nye does, too, is to obliquely show the subtle conflict Mary endured between remaining true to feminist principles yet desiring the ‘respectability’ of marriage with the father of her children.
The writing is crisp and smooth and doesn’t falter. It’s as if there’s something waiting around every corner for the reader so you read on willing everything to work out okay for Mary. Whether it does or not I refuse to say!! If you enjoy historical fiction, if you enjoy gothic fiction, if you’ve simply an interest in feminism and the part historical forces play in shaping our current world you could do a lot worse than read this book.
One of the marks of good historical fiction for me is that my desire to find out more is fuelled. Arguing With the Dead did that for me and I want to read Frankenstein again feeling that I know a little more of the amazing woman who wrote it. I want to revisit Shelley’s poetry and Byron’s even. Will I find clues and corroborations? Does it matter? Arguing with the Dead is as complete a portrait of Mary Shelley as you’re likely to find within the fiction genre.
Gill Chedgey 5*
Arguing with the Dead by Alex Nye
Fledgling Press 9781912280261 pbk Jul 2019