The Lambs of London.

Position:Book review

**** The Lambs of London By Peter Ackroyd Reviving the Bard.

This novel, by the author of Shakespeare: The Biography (2005), takes place in the 19th century, a few months before real-life Mary Lamb murdered her mother and a decade before her brother, English essayist Charles Lamb, published Tales from Shakespeare. Charles, a young writer working as a clerk at London's East India Company, and Mary, constrained by domesticity, escape their lives by reading the Bard. Then William Ireland, a young bookseller, discovers a "lost" Shakespearean play and other Shakespearean documents. He seduces the siblings with his find as they struggle to understand the play's origins. But is William's manuscript authentic--or is it a fantastic hoax? Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. 213 pages. $23. ISBN: 0385514611

Washington Post ****1/2

"I can't remember a novel that wears its erudition so graciously, so lightly.... How delicately, how cleverly Ackroyd follows the acceleration of William's scheme and its energizing effect on him and Mary." RON CHARLES

Newsday ****

"Gothic and wry, with a sweet-and-sour mix of tragedy and comedy worthy of a Romantic-period Shakespeare forgery, The Lambs of London builds to an artificial yet moving crescendo.... Everything about this carefully constructed novel is beautifully ambiguous, right down to Mary's fate: Is she a heroine or a victim?" POLLY SHULMAN

San Francisco Chronicle ****

"The Immortal Bard, dead 200 years at the time of this tale, looms like a beckoning phantom over the heads of many who live in a town where old Will's past is in some ways still present. ... True and fake, life and art, madness and sanity take turns together in this accelerating gavotte, a dance of wills and wants." TOM NOLAN

Columbus Dispatch ***1/2

"The mystery--are the documents forgeries?--sustains the plot, although the outcome of the novel is never really in doubt.... Ackroyd manages to raise most of the ongoing debates about Shakespeare, often subtly, often humorously." BILL EICHENBERGER

Los Angeles Times ***1/2

"Few writers are more...

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