Review of small press and independent books.
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The Onion Stone
by Mandy Pannett
Pewter Rose Press www.pewter-rose-press.com
ISBN 9 781908 136015
I’ve known Mandy for a long while now online as a superlative poet; well known for both her intensely erudite yet accessible poetry that draws its inspiration from the earliest poets to the modern day, and also as a respected and sought after judge for poetry competitions. I had no idea she wrote prose as well. If I’d thought about it, I’d have assumed she would write absorbing text books on Anglo Saxon poetic forms, or maybe intriguing new insights into Shakespeare’s sonnets. I’d have been part right, as ‘The Onion Stone’ has the age old question of who really wrote William Shakespeare’s works as one of its themes, but it is so much more than merely a re-hash of the latest theories woven into some sort of a detective story. Goodness knows enough authors have been down that road. No, what Mandy Pannett does here is something quite different. She has created an utterly absorbing tale of two women; Anne Cecil and Frances Goodbody; one young but centuries old, the other elderly but living today. Both have to deal with monsters – Anne with Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, and Frances with her appalling husband Ardie, along with an old lover who has his own streak of destructiveness – Ellis. Ardie and Ellis were friends (or thought they were) in their youth, but a combination of professional and personal jealousy has soured them and turned the once brilliant young men into vicious old ones. And then there’s Gilbert, but you’ll find no spoilers here, so I won’t say any more about him. Amongst the intriguing dramatis personae there is also the somewhat creepy Henry Shakspeare in the present day, and the long suffering William Cecil, Lord Burghley, in the past, who for me is one of the more sympathetic characters.
So what happens when a poet writes a novel? Does she slip into rhyming couplets? Become wholly obscure? No, not even slightly. The poet creeps into the writing through the sense of place, the wonderful though brief descriptions of Sussex, Warwickshire, London etc. This feel for the countryside along with the pace of the story-telling put me in mind, quite randomly, of Margery Allingham. On the other hand, the depth of characterisation is much more Iris Murdoch. And running through it all, there’s more than a hint of Virginia Woolf. Three very different writers. Put them together, stir well, and out comes Mandy Pannett wearing her novelist’s hat.
The only problem I have with this book is the length. It is far too short. I wanted it to be four times as long so that all the themes could be developed further. I wanted more scenes in both the present and the past; I particularly wanted to witness conversations between Anne and Gilbert, and between Anne and Edward, but in a little under 200 pages, there just isn’t room. I wanted to read Frances’ book. Maybe Mandy will write that next. And I definitely wanted to give Ardie and Ellis a good slap.
Well that has to be a good review because I read the last couple of paragraphs really quickly because I'd already decided to zap over to Pewter Rose and buy a copy. Will let you know if the book's as good!
... and you were right. Great idea, well realised. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Please tell Mandy that I, too, am looking forward to the full-length, epic saga version - but then that feeling will almost certainly cause lots of people to be queuing up to read her next book so perhaps we'd better let her get on with that.