"According to Queenie", the latest novel by the award-winning British novelist, Beryl Bainbridge is a fictional account of the last 20 years of Samuel Johnson's life, from 1764-84. Appearances by his contemporaries, David Garrick, the actor, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, the painter, along with Johnson's biographer, James Boswell, spice the novel.
Seen through the eyes of the young Hester (Queenie) Thrale, daughter of the wealthy brewer, Henry Thrale and his wife, the noted writer leads a lively life visiting the Thrales in Southwark , London, where Mrs. Thrale provides him with a room in which she also makes love to him. With the Thrales , he visits Paris and catches glimpses of King Louis and his consort, "queen" Marie Antoinette.
The author chronicles the many illnesses that plagued people of that era. Samuel suffers from "melancholia", (depression),along with gout and "dropsy", (congestive heart failure). Mrs. Thrale suffers multiple stillbirths resulting from 10 pregnancies. Mr. Thrale contracted cancer and dies after consuming inhuman quantities of food.
Queenie has whooping cough and almost dies from a fever witch carries off her only brother, Harry.
Queenie also is dosed unmercifully by her mother with physics and enemas ostensibly from worms.
The author quotes from Johnson's literary works to further the plot. She gives his views on life after death, (he doubts it) and of marriage,(a state unrelated to love)
Reading about the famous author of "The Dicionary" provides a welcome change from plodding throuogh Boswell's "Life". A glossary of placenames and references to people would have enhanced the enjoyment of the novel.
This report prepared by Betty-Jeanne Korson