Fourth Estate, $29.99
Wee Will Shakespeare, although already married with a young family, has a dalliance with a young widow, but is unaware that she returned to her brother’s house in Oxfordshire pregnant with his child, a girl she calls Aerlene. In her dotage and as a housekeeper for a quite, elegant manor house, Aerlene decides, at 70, to share the secrets of her life’s story.
Her eyesight failing, Aerlene calls upon young Charlotte, a delightful young wisp she’s raised since Charlotte’s mother died in childbirth. Charlotte scribes, and the novel glides along. First, the story of Aerlene’s mother, Liz, and how she met the famous playwright she claims is Aerlene’s father. Next, the tale of serious Aerlene, living with her uncle and aunt since Liz’s death. Both Aerlene and Liz are country women who spend a brief, illuminating portion of their lives in the thronging streets of London.
Set mainly in Cromwell’s England, this work of utter fiction touches upon the seventeenth century’s big scenes. England’s wretched underclass scratches at the novel’s edges, and the menacing vision of the plague lurks. However, history’s details never really threaten to tax the reader, making this neat commuter-friendly fare. With Wright’s clear insight into the feminine world, Aerlene is a heroine with a nearly modern approach, almost a moralistic version of the ladies at the heart of many a twentieth-century Hollywood rom-com.
Reviewed October 2010