“……wherever you go boy, whatever people you find yourself amongst, and no matter how harshly they behave towards you, you always treat their gods with respect and in time they may come to look favourable upon you. He meant the gods, of course, not the people. People do not change so easily. “
In 1802 Thomas de Quincey, a young man from a comfortable middle-class background who would go on to become one of the most celebrated writers of his day, collapsed on Oxford Street and was discovered by a teenage prostitute who brought him back to her room and nursed him to health. It was the beginning of a relationship that would introduce Thomas to a world just below the surface of London’s polite society, where pleasure was a trade-able commodity and opium could seem the only relief from poverty. Yet it was also a world where love might blossom, and goodness survive.
The lives of a street girl, an aspiring writer, and a freed slave cross and re-cross the slums of London in this novel about the birth of passion, the burden of addiction, and the consolations of literature.
Set in early 1800’s, The Alphabet of Heart’s Desire is a magnificent piece of literary fiction. Written from the point of view of three characters – Anne, Tuah and Thomas, the author takes us on three distinct journeys.
Anne, a street-worker, lost her father to the waters of Thames, her mother to a drunkard lover, and her innocence to the vagaries of life that keep throwing her down. Tuah was orphaned at a young age and lived with his uncle on an unnamed island. One day he finds himself captured by Dutch sailors and brought to Cape Town to be sold. He is bought by a captain of an English ship only to free him. Tuah becomes a cabin boy to the captain on the ship and a companion in London to the captain and his brother. Thomas De Quincey is born into aristocracy and dreams of becoming a poet. After an unfortunate and unexpected turn of event, he finds himself on the streets and slums of London, sleeping in alleyways, going hungry and thirsty for days.
The three characters take turns to tell their story in the book, chapter by chapter. Anne, Tuah and Thomas are very different in terms of their upbringing and life experiences. But they are quite alike when it comes to the twists and turns of fate that they are met with. As the story progresses, the paths cross and re-cross. They find hope, love, passion, addictions and most importantly literature.
Loosely based on the life of Thomas De Quincey, an English essayist, best known for Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, the book takes the reader on the streets of Victorian London to experience the sights and sounds, highs and lows of the era gone by without succumbing to the eternal boredom that often haunts historical depictions.
I absolutely loved the fact that the characters were so alive, real and believable that one would want to meet them to ask questions of generally discuss life with. I personally loved the intricate and complex character of Thomas De Quincey so much that I wished I could talk to him over a cup of tea although he would have preferred a drink of Laudanum. Sigh.
There are no fallacies in the book to write about. If I absolutely had to pick something for the heck of picking flaws, I would say that I would have loved to know more about Thomas De Quincey. He is a complex character struggling with his confidence, sexuality, rebellion, heartache and his addiction to Laudanum. He has all the makings of an interesting poet and you know me – I can’t get enough of poetry and poets. 😛
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The author is a genius when it comes to storytelling, background research and character development.
I would be surprised if this book is not picked up and made into a film. It contains everything to lure Hollywood to lay their grubby paws on it to take it to the big screen. I would love that, only if they don’t mess it up. But even if they do make a good film out of it, I will still say the book was better. Heheh. 😛
All in all, this is a great book. I am glad I read it and would definitely recommend it.
Brian Keaney is an award-winning author, best known for his young adult and children’s fantasy novels Jacob’s Ladder, The Hollow People and The Magical Detectives. For a number of years he was Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Goldsmiths College and at the London College Of Fashion and he taught creative writing on the Pembroke College Cambridge summer programme. He has a house in the west of Ireland where he spends as much time as possible. His writing has been translated into twenty languages, and several of his books have now been bought by US Film Companies.
What did you think of The Alphabet of Heart’s Desire? Have you read earlier books by Brian Keaney or are planning to? I would love to hear from you.