Review: The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber

marloweHow to describe this book? Poetic novel, adventure story, the author’s version of the Marlowe/Shakespeare legend? Whatever it is, it’s probably not a book I would have immediately chosen, but being a good book group member, I dived in.

I had to tell myself to persevere, as it’s quite a culture shock to read a novel that’s written in verses, not chapters, especially when the verses are more like a Tudor tragedy than a collection of poems. But it didn’t take long to almost forget about the form of the text, as the voice of the ‘author’ comes through clearly, presenting his version of his life story. And Marlowe’s story is full of action, events, people and places.

As I read on I felt I was learning more about the Marlowe story than I knew before, and finding out about the man himself – not necessarily the most sympathetic character, but clever and complex. And little details about life in Tudor England and on the continent gave an insight into reality and an indication of the writer’s depth of knowledge of her subject.

I don’t usually mind notes in a book, but somehow I found the extensive notes in an extremely small font at the end of this book very annoying. The fact that they weren’t numbered is a minor niggle, but it niggled all through the book. I can’t stop myself from reading the notes supplied, but in this book I found them a bit too scholarly and distracting, and decided that I should have stopped referring to them so conscientiously. That being said, it’s not a reason not to read this book – the story is gripping, the writing is brilliant and the delight of a novel in verse makes me think that perhaps I’ll return to this book and read it without referring to the notes next time.


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