Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh was published in 2004 and at 149 pages it’s a very quick read, and unusually for the author it’s historical fiction.
The setting is London 1593, it has been a bad year with the plague ravaging the inhabitants and threats of war abroad. The playwright Christopher Marlowe has been taken to London from his patron’s country house, under arrest. He has no idea what has caused this change in his luck, but he has been hauled in front of the Privy Council before and survived, he hopes to wriggle out of danger again.
Marlowe had a great success in the past with his play Tamburlaine and it turns out that someone has been pasting blasphemous and atheistic posters all around the city signed Tambourlaine. Marlowe is being blamed for them and the penalty is death, but the Privy Council really want Marlowe to dig up evidence against Sir Walter Raleigh as they’re keen to get rid of him, and they give Marlowe three days of freedom to come up with the goods.
Marlowe knows that someone had given the Privy Council some of his private papers in an effort to incriminate him, and he spends his time trying to track down his betrayer.
I really enjoyed this one. I didn’t know anything at all about Christopher Marlowe beyond that he was a playwright, a contemporary of Shakespeare, a homosexual and of course he famously got murdered in an argument over a tavern bill. It seems to me though that Welsh has written an entertaining and plausible tale around him. Inevitably there’s some homosexual sex involved in this book, if you’re squeamish about that then this book might not be for you.
The Cutting Room is the first book that I’ve read by the Scottish author Louise Welsh, it was published in 2002 and was nominated for several awards, including the Orange Prize.
I mention that she’s a Scottish author, but it seems she was born in England, she must have moved to Scotland at a fairly young age I think because this book which is set in Glasgow is pure dead Glaswegian as far as the dialogue goes anyway. But it would be easily understood by anyone I think. It’s quite detailed on the dodgy background of auction houses, but I’m sure that wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
The blurb on the front says: ‘A stunning work of fiction’ Sunday Times – well I enjoyed it anyway although I think for more prudish readers some passages might be a much to take.
The story revolves around a Glasgow auction house where Rilke is an auctioneer, the business isn’t going very well so when they get a call to clear an entire housefull of antiques – if they can do it all within a week, they jump at the chance. The house owner has died and as he has no children it has fallen to his elderly sister to arrange everything.
She tells Rilke that her brother’s private office is in the attic, not easily accessible, and she wants Rilke to destroy whatever he finds in there. He finds some very disturbing books and photographs there and is loath to destroy them as he knows they are worth a lot of money, but it’s the photographs that haunt him and he starts inquiries of his own.
Of course as I knew all the locations the book had that extra dimension for me, being able to picture all the places mentioned and Welsh managed to make Rilke a likeable character despite his many weaknesses, including his penchant for having gay sex with random pick ups from time to time. It’s decidedly sleazy in a few places. It takes all sorts I suppose!
I’ll definitely be reading more books by Louise Welsh.
Here we are at another Saturday already, I can’t believe how quickly each week flies past nowadays, there’s another Guardian review section to read today, and I found quite a few interesting articles in last week’s that you might find worthwhile reading too.
If I find a novel features a house to such an extent that it becomes character then that’s usually a big plus for me. I love houses in books, art, crafts, bookcovers — whatever, I’m right there in that house, so I enjoyed this article about famous fictional houses, there are a lot more than Manderley. Do you have a favourite fictional dwelling? Or just a favourite house? Do tell!
I’ve never read anything by Louise Welsh but I read this article about her working day. I hadn’t realised that she lives in Glasgow, near our old stamping ground.
The American author Robin Hobb features in the interview, interesting although again I haven’t read anything by her.
There’s a good article on picture books and novels for tots to teenagers. Although I don’t have any small people in my life nowadays (well not in this country anyway) I’m still drawn to children’s books and sometimes I just have to buy them if the illustrations are particularly gorgeous.
Sarah Dunant’s article is amongst other things about how the historical research that she used for some of her books hadn’t been done 25 years ago. Mainly though she’s writing to promote a BBC Radio 4 podcast – When Greeks Flew Kites, and I believe that anybody in the world can listen to the radio programmes in general.