Benjamin Markovits (3 stars)

Imposture (Faber)


John Polidori (Byron’s travelling companion and doctor) and governess Eliza Esmond embark upon a secretive love affair, under the guises of Byron himself and Eliza’s more glamorous sister. In language stretched and manipulated to convey the writing of the time, Benjamin Markovits layers textual references and historical allusions to bridge the Romantic and the postmodern. It’s a good idea, but hardly original, with similar ground being covered in John Crowley’s Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land as recently as 2005.

That isn’t to say there is no more mileage in the intriguing subject of the Byronic hero. After the unnecessary obfuscations of the prologue (with literary in-jokes for the initiated) and a primly academic first half, the Cyrano de Bergerac-style tale eventually delivers the down and dirty sensationalism Byron is renowned for. Looking past its 19th century setting, Imposture is salacious celebrity fiction with a scholarly gloss.

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