Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Shakespeare - Bill Bryson

This is a workmanlike book. It wears its erudition lightly, skips through what is known of Shakespeare, and does a reasonable job of trashing all the loonies who claim Shakespeare didn’t write any plays.

But (and couldn’t you see that coming) I have to ask, what was the point of it? It was mostly a straightforward text, but there were occasional first-person interpolations that did little for me except destroy the narrative flow. It offered no new information or ideas. The information it did give was dealt with in such a cursory fashion as to leave it floating free of any useful context. There were no maps or illustrations. The whole thing lacked energy. Only once does the author hint at any real interest in the subject and it stands out from the rest of the book like the proverbial.

The best I can say of it is that there have been many bad books about Shakespeare and this was not quite one of them.

Sadly there are all too many books like this. They offer nothing new (come on Bill, a book on the British obsession with Shakespeare would have been much more interesting and could still have conveyed all the facts this volume contained). You get the impression they are contractual obligations or dreamt up one evening over one glass of alcohol too many. And because they involve well known authors, the financial resources of whichever publisher is involved get wasted on dreck instead of being used to nurture talent and produce books worth having.