cover image The Lambs of London

The Lambs of London

Peter Ackroyd, . . Doubleday/Talese, $23 (213pp) ISBN 978-0-385-51461-3

Following up on his recent nonfiction Shakespeare: The Biography , Ackroyd brings readers forward to London at the turn of the 19th century, and to denizens who are preoccupied with the Shakespearean past. The plot is a lightly fictionalized story about real-life essayist Charles Lamb and his sister Mary, both passionate devotées of the Bard, and their fraught friendship with William Henry Ireland, a bookseller who unearths a trove of Shakespeare documents, including what seems to be an unknown play. The mystery of the play's origin shapes an enchanting, slightly melancholy, exploration of Regency society. The young characters struggle with the constraints of their day—the brilliant, fragile Mary feels suffocated by the strictures of feminine domesticity; William chafes against his father's domination—but they do so without craning their necks toward modernity as an escape route: Ackroyd knows that the past is another country; there his characters live, and there they stay. Steeping readers in revealing but unobtrusive period detail, Ackroyd once again delivers a psychologically rich evocation of a vanished time. (June 20)