cover image Shadowplay


Joseph O’Connor. Europa, $26 (400p) ISBN 978-1-60945-593-4

O’Connor’s high-spirited latest (after The Star of the Sea) puts ample flesh on the bones of the little-known story of the theatrical ménage involving celebrity actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry, and Irving’s business manager, Bram Stoker. Composed (like Dracula) in epistolary style from diary entries, letters, recording transcripts, and the like, the narrative follows Stoker as he moves with his family from Dublin to London in 1879 to help Irving establish his Lyceum Theatre. Over the next quarter century the two indulge in a frequently bitter love/hate relationship—Irving drives Stoker mercilessly and cruelly taunts him for his literary ambitions. Via commentary from Terry on Dracula, O’Connor’s narrative suggests that Stoker likely channeled the personality of Irving and the drama of their contretemps into his tale of the imperious vampire scourge. O’Connor’s characters are magnificently realized and colorfully depicted by the virtues that define them: Irving’s egotism, Terry’s feminism, Stoker’s stoicism, and—for the brief time he appears—Oscar Wilde’s witticisms. The repartee O’Connor imagines between them is priceless, in particular when they refer to each other by their nicknames (“Chief” for Irving, “Auntie” for Stoker), and he fills the tale with numerous rib nudges that readers of Dracula will recognize. This novel blows the dust off its Victorian trappings and brings them to scintillating life. (June)