Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Debut Fiction -

Janet Todd, Bit­ter Lemon Press Hard­cover $24.95 (352pp), 978-1-908524-59-1

Writ­ing can be an act of cre­ation—or de­struc­tion. In Janet Todd’s A Man of Ge­nius, Ann St. Clair is a suc­cess­ful nine­teenth-cen­tury nov­el­ist of cheap gothic nov­els whose life is trans­formed when she meets the bold, enig­matic Robert James. What starts as a love af­fair turns into a tu­mul­tuous re­la­tion­ship of mad­ness and ob­ses­sion, and as Ann leaves Lon­don to fol­low Robert to Venice, she dis­cov­ers more shock­ing se­crets that trans­form her life into one of the scan­dalous sto­ries she used to only write about.

A Man of Ge­nius jumps into Ann’s meet­ing with Robert, the trans­for­ma­tion com­ing swiftly and ir­re­vo­ca­bly. At times, the novel seems al­most dream-like, as Ann’s real­ity shifts and re­con­fig­ures it­self af­ter her en­counter with the strange but cap­ti­vat­ing gen­tle­man. “He changed ev­ery­thing,” she writes, and a se­ries of short scenes help in­tro­duce the mon­u­men­tal change that led to the un­do­ing of Ann’s for­mer life. In­ter­est­ingly, though Ann re­mains the cen­ter of the novel, she ori­ents her­self al­most en­tirely around Robert James, so that it is im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine her with­out this con­nec­tion to the brood­ing, vi­o­lent ge­nius. The im­pli­ca­tion Todd seems to be mak­ing is that in the real­ity of this novel, the writer Ann can­not cre­ate her­self in­de­pen­dent of Robert James—at least at the be­gin­ning.

As the novel goes on, how­ever, Ann be­gins to dis­cover more about not only Robert, but her­self. It is this self-dis­cov­ery, this un­cov­er­ing of her own nar­ra­tive, that fi­nally pushes her into an in­de­pen­dent role that is both thrilling and heart­break­ing to wit­ness. For Robert James is not the only one with se­crets, and Ann’s fi­nal nar­ra­tive is de­pen­dent on her un­der­stand­ing of her own. This book is rec­om­mended for read­ers who en­joy the twists and turns of a gothic novel with emo­tional heart and depth.

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