cover image A Man of Genius

A Man of Genius

Janet Todd. Bitter Lemon (Consortium, dist.), $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-908524-59-1

The gothic novels of late 18th- and early 19th-century England tended to feature an innocent virgin led into dark adventures by an evil man. Ann St. Clair, the protagonist of Todd's novel, makes her living writing books like these, and though she's not proud of her prose%E2%80%94each book, she knows, essentially rearranges the elements of romance, danger, and exotic travel%E2%80%94she is proud of her independence. Then she meets the titular genius, a writer and radical whose great work, such as it was, is behind him%E2%80%94and she goes from writing gothics to living one, complete with dangerous love, tragedy, a desperate escape, revelations about her parentage, and, when things look darkest, a chance for happiness. Historian Todd studies the era, and in her first work of fiction, she both evokes and comments on these novels, as Ann, who is neither young nor a virgin, falls prey to the genius's violent charisma. Unfortunately, both language and plot are slow going: Ann compares the sea to a "large white hand with rosy clutching fingers bent on taking the life from the living," and many plot developments are apparent to the reader before they are to Ann, who ruminates over questions the reader has already answered. These choices may stem from the era and genre, but they wear thin. (Apr.)