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The Dickens Boy by Tom Keneally

April 2020, no. 420

The Dickens Boy by Tom Keneally

Vintage, $32.99 pb, 400 pp

The Dickens Boy by Tom Keneally

April 2020, no. 420

‘When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.’ That gunshot of a quotation comes from the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz. I suspect he means writers are traitors to biology – they have higher allegiances than blood ties. Art is their true spouse; their works are the favoured first-born.

Catherine Dickens had ten children by her husband, Charles. Each was named after a famous author or a literary creation of the author – a heavy nominal burden assumed at birth – and was given the best education money could buy. Aside from a daughter, Dora, who died at eight months of age, eternally immunising herself against parental disappointment, and Henry Fielding Dickens, who had a solid if not stellar legal career, the rest represent a generational catalogue of failure and mediocrity.

Geordie Williamson reviews 'The Dickens Boy' by Tom Keneally

The Dickens Boy

by Tom Keneally

Vintage, $32.99 pb, 400 pp

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Comments (2)

  • 'The Dickens Boy', by any other name, might have drawn on Keneally’s powers as a writer to create a believable character. As it is, this wimp tormented by the gibes of his father, Charles Dickens, as well as by the psychological gibberish going on his head, has been left as rudely and crudely castrated as the lambs described by Gill Egan in a former comment. Keneally's 'confections', as he likes to call them in the acknowledgments, might be more modestly and accurately described as 'careless concoctions'. When it comes to 'paying tribute to the inventiveness of Charles Dickens', one can think of better ways.
    Posted by Patricia Wiltshire
    30 May 2020
  • Tom Keneally needs to research the methods of lamb castration. The method he describes would have resulted in the extinction of the Sunday roast and the lambs that underwent the procedure he describes. Tom is a bit like Banjo, extolling the droving life but never going a-droving - pure theater. Another comment on life on the land from the metropolitan armchair.
    Posted by Gill David Egan
    10 April 2020

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