SHADOWPLAY - Joseph O'Connor
Harvill Secker
ISBN-10: 1787300846
ISBN-13: 978-1787300842
June 2020
General Fiction, Biographical Fiction
London 1877 to 1912

This is the second biographical fiction novel I've read. The genre makes an odd mix. It is based on historical information told in a fictional voice. This story involves three friends, Irishman Abraham (Bram) Stoker, who considered himself a failed writer, Victorian Irish actor Henry Irving, the greatest actor of his era, and English actress Ellen Terry, who was also a famous actress. Irving took over the management of the Lyceum Theatre in London in 1978. Ellen Terry acted as the leading lady in the productions throughout Irving's management of the Lyceum. Bram Stoker acted as Irving's business manager. The three form a close friendship.

The story is told in chapters of vignettes mostly from Stoker's viewpoint and arranged in three acts. The first act begins with Stoker and Irving on a train ride to Bradford in 1905, which leads in the following chapters to Stoker's memories. He wrote a review for the  Dublin Mail  about a theater production of Irving playing Hamlet. It goes on to tell how Irving hires Stoker. They go to London to take over the management of the Lyceum Theatre. This act also tells of Stoker meeting his future wife. The two following acts also lead in with scenes from the 1905 train trip which lead to Stoker's contemplation of his and Irving's friendship. Stoker loves writing but his stories and books (Dracula) don't sell. However, his friendship with Irving and Terry makes him important. The last portion of the story is a separate chapter taking place on the day Stoker died in 1912.

The story's language switches between Stoker's movements and the lyrical mental reflections in Stoker's mind as he moves through his daily life. Ellen Terry also has a few scenes from her viewpoint. Irving's language when talking to Stoker shows him to be a moody, demanding person with snide and snarky humor, but sometimes it's hard to understand if it is humor or temper. Stoker remains a quiet and self-contained man but giving and loyal in his friendship. Sometimes in reading, character viewpoint changes abruptly, which with the language style can slow reading and make it a bit difficult to understand, but what do you expect from a writer whose works helped define the horror genre and two actors famous during their time? It is a very different and interesting approach to a story, evocative, sometimes moody and sad.

Robin Lee