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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Wilkie Collins: A Brief Life by Peter Ackroyd

Wilkie Collins: A Brief Life
by Peter Ackroyd

ISBN: 0385537395
ISBN 13: 978-0385537391
publisher: Nan A. Talese
October 6, 2015

Much like a delicious hor d'oeuvre, A Brief Life is a tid bit that prepares the literary pallet and wets the appetite for more.  Even those unfamiliar with this Victorian era author will find enough information in this little book to appreciate Collins' contribution to literature. It's a quick, easy read, filled with emotion, humor and strange facts.

Not to be unkind, but Collins is described as having a 'strange' physical appearance, plus having sworn off marriage, one would be surprised if a lady gave him the time of day...But not so, he was quite popular with the ladies and successfully maintained long term relations with not one, but two mistresses. He was the first author to pen an English mystery with a female detective in the lead role. Collins suffered from a variety of painful ailments, which lead to a serious addiction to opium. He had deep, heartfelt appreciation and respect for those serving in the military. With war raging, he became convinced that a local fortune teller could commune with the dead. While this brought him some degree of comfort, it also alienated him from a large section of the population. He tried his hand theater, without much fanfare. He is most famous for his novels, The Lady in White and Moonstone.
While he enjoyed the adulation of fans during his lifetime, it is because his works have stood the test of time he is considered a master storyteller today. Just as Chaucer, Twain, Poe and Dickens are held in the highest of literary esteem - Wilkie Collins may be lesser known, but his works are no less masterful.

Peter Ackroyd set out to deliver a brief overview of Wilkie Collins - I'm sure that's why he titled the book "A Brief Life." This wasn't meant to be a 1900 page, detailed history, and it isn't.
At under 300 pages, Ackroyd's book does an excellent job of introducing Wilkie Collins to strangers and reminding fans what they liked about his work. Peter Ackroyd talks about Wilkie Collins as though he were telling us about an old friend....sharing stories from his humble beginnings to his days of fame and of course his endearing friendship with Charles Dickens. Years ago when I read Ackroyd's, Charles Dickens biography, I felt the two shared so much it was like they had some kind of spiritual or cosmic kinship. Now after reading A Brief Life, the dialogue flows so naturally it's as if Ackroyd has a genuine understanding of his subject (Wilkie Collins) through Charles Dickens. (If that makes sense.) I enjoyed A Brief Life and would recommend it to anyone who loves literature, especially those who want to know more about the man behind the covers.

 Happy Reading!

      RJ :-)

**I received a courtesy copy in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

Peter Ackroyd

Peter Ackroyd at his desk in Bloomsbury, where he typically writes three books simultaneously.
Peter Ackroyd at his desk in Bloomsbury.*

Book List:
2012   Wilkie Collins, Chatto & Windus
2012   A History of England, v.II , Macmillan
2011   London Under, Chatto & Windus
2011   Foundation: The History of England Volume 1, Macmillan
2010  The English Ghost, Chatto & Windus
2010  The Death of King Arthur: The Immortal Legend, Penguin
2010  A Brief Guide to William Shakespeare: without the boring bits, Robinson Publishing
2009  Venice: Pure City, Chatto & Windus
2009  The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling by Peter Ackroyd, Penguin
2008  The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, Chatto & Windus
2008  Poe: A Life Cut Short, Chatto & Windus
2008  Newton, Chatto & Windus
2008  Coffee with Dickens, with Paul Schlicke, Duncan Baird
2007  Thames: Sacred River, Chatto & Windus
2006  The Fall of Troy, Chatto & Windus
2005  Voyages Through Time: Ancient Rome, Dorling Kindersley
2005  Voyages Through Time: Ancient Greece, Dorling Kindersley
2005  Turner, Chatto & Windus
2005  Shakespeare: The Biography, Chatto & Windus
2004  Voyages Through Time: Ancient Egypt, Dorling Kindersley
2004  The Lambs of London, Chatto & Windus
2004  Chaucer, Chatto & Windus
2003  Voyages through Time: The Beginning, Dorling Kindersley
2003  Voyages through Time: Escape from Earth, Dorling Kindersley
2003  The Haunted House, by Charles Dickens and Others, foreword, Hesperus
2003  The Clerkenwell Tales, Chatto & Windus
2003I  llustrated London, Chatto & Windus
2002  Dickens: Public Life and Private Passion, BBC Books
2002  Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination, Chatto & Windus
2001  The Collection: Journalism, Reviews, Essays, Short Stories, Lectures, Chatto & Windus
2000  London: The Biography, Chatto & Windus
1999  The Plato Papers, Chatto & Windus
1998  The Life of Thomas More, Chatto & Windus
1996  Milton in America, Sinclair-Stevenson
1995  Blake, Sinclair-Stevenson
1994  Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, Sinclair-Stevenson
1993  The House of Doctor Dee, Hamish Hamilton
1992  English Music, Hamish Hamilton
1991  Introduction to Dickens, Sinclair-Stevenson
1990  Dickens, Sinclair-Stevenson
1989  First Light, Hamish Hamilton
1987  The Diversions of Purley and Other Poems, Hamish Hamilton
1987  Chatterton, Hamish Hamilton
1985  Hawksmoor, Hamish Hamilton
1984  T. S. Eliot, Hamish Hamilton
1983  The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, Hamish Hamilton
1982  The Great Fire of London, Hamish Hamilton
1980  Ezra Pound and His World, Thames & Hudson
1979  Dressing Up: Transvestism and Drag, the History of an Obsession, Thames & Hudson
1978  Country Life, Ferry Press
1976  Notes for a New Culture: An Essay on Modernism, Vision Press
1973  London Lickpenny, Ferry Press
1971  Ouch, The Curiously Strong: Volume 4, No. 2


2003  CBE
2003  British Book Awards Illustrated Book of the Year, Illustrated London, shortlist
2001  South Bank Show Annual Award for Literature, London: The Biography
1998  James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for biography), The Life of Thomas More
1988  Booker Prize for Fiction, Chatterton, shortlist
1985  Whitbread Novel Award, Hawksmoor
1985  Guardian Fiction Prize, Hawksmoor
1984  Whitbread Biography Award, T. S. Eliot
1984  Somerset Maugham Award, The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde
1984   Heinemann Award, T. S. Eliot, joint winner
*photo courtesy of NYT

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