According to Queenie by Beryl Bainbridge

August 21, 2010 | No Comments

What an original imagination Bainbridge had! To let the reader eavesdrop into the later life of Samuel Johnson – without swathes of explanatory narrative set-up – then whip us out of it again, 240 pages later,  with the small yet telling detail of the astronomical cost of his funeral (“forty-four pounds six shillings and seven pence, excluding the sum of thirteen shillings and four pence paid separately to the bellringers”). According to Queenie (2001) traces the rocky but long-lasting relationship between the aging wit and his often indifferent benefactress and mistress Hester Thrale. Isn’t this man a genius and a childish, pain in the ass? And isn’t this woman modern, flighty, a self-absorbed and irresponsible mother? And isn’t the author clever to present them just as she imagined them to be, with all their flaws, without any omniscient commentary or interpretation? With the exception, of course, of the rye asides of Queenie, Hester’s intimidating flame-haired daughter, and Queenie’s reticent, acidic letters, in which she witheringly dismisses gossip. According to Queenie, “I do not care to comment on my mother’s relationship with Dr. Johnson; suffiicent to say she needed an audience and he needed a home.” Nuff said. I didn’t love this book, I’m not sure I even liked it – it’s a queer, hard, brilliant thing – but, boy, is it daring. (See Joshua Reynold’s portrait of Hester and Queenie here.)

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