Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Last Man

It seems like I've been reading Mary Shelley's The Last Man all year. I'm not the fastest of readers but whenever I read poetry I read even slower. The Last Man isn't poetry but it is written using poetic prose, which keeps tricking me into thinking I'm reading an epic poem. The primary characters are based on Shelley's recently deceased husband poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and herself (although personified by the eponymous male character). The woman can write some. The novel really shines when the story finally concludes on its note of tragic isolation. Unfortunately to get to this brilliant finale of loss you have to first present fully what is being lost. Shelley spends over half of the book setting this up and it is, admittedly quite a slog. And then the plague hits. This part of the book is unrelentingly morbid in what it depicts although Shelley's writing and exploration of theme's and ideas during this section are delivered with great acuity. If I'd been aware how dark much of the book was going to be after such a long set up I would probably have given the book a miss. I'm glad I read it though because the writing is so good on certain levels but it is often rather daunting in its density.

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