Sunday, February 10, 2008

Burning Bright-Tracey Chevalier

Burning Bright
Tracey Chevalier
Dutton, Apr 2008, $24.95
ISBN: 9780525949787

In 1792 following a tragedy, the Kellaway family leaves their Dorsetshire village Piddletrenthide for London at the encouragement of Philip Astley, owner of Astley’s Circus. The city seems initially overwhelming compared to where they lived, but the Kellaway brood begins to adapt although they struggle to earn enough to keep food on the table and everyone under one roof.

The youngest child Jem quickly makes friends with street urchin Maggie. Together they explore the city and meet the Kellaway next door neighbor renowned radical poet William Blake at a time when the French Revolution has people either frightened that the zealots will cross the Channel or excited about a chance to reform the excesses of the royals and the aristocracy. Meanwhile Blake finds motivation with the adventures of Maggie and Jem in London as he begins to write a coming of age poems, Songs of Innocence and Experience.

BURNING BRIGHT is a terrific historical fiction that brings to life the expectations and fears of Londoners during the French Revolution. The Kellaway family (especially Jem) and Maggie are fully developed so that the audience obtains a strong sense of how they see things especially the fears that the family will have to break up to survive. Blake is an interesting addition to the mix, but forcing the Songs of Innocence and Experience as being inspired by the preadolescent stars seems unlikely. Still this is a strong look at London knowing Paris is burning.

Harriet Klausner

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