White cliffs of Dover
Photo of Dover by diamond geezer used under a Creative Commons license.

William Shakespeare, King Lear (Washington Square Press, 2005).
Perhaps Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, set in the royal court of a pre-Christian Britain. King Lear decides to divide his lands between his daughters, Goneril and Regan, and to disown his youngest daughter, Cordelia, who fails to flatter him as her sisters do. Lear then struggles with age, powerlessness, and madness, while Britain suffers as his daughters intrigue. Cordelia, who has married the King of France, returns with a army at Dover, where she finds Lear and the play finds its denouement.  While King Lear is hardly a guide to Dover, all of the major characters save the Fool are drawn to it, and the place has a special significance within the play.  (On this point, I am indebted to Susan Snyder, whose essay follows the play in the Folger edition noted above.)  Dover functions as a frontier, the edge of Britain, and the place where Lear and Gloucester go to transcend their experiences.

There are so many sources on Lear that a few posted here will only scratch the surface. Wikipedia’s entry on King Lear is lengthy and worthwhile. Google Books gives you a preview or MIT gives you the whole thing. You can listen to the play here. Is this Lear’s domain? Ed Friedlander wrote this essay on enjoying the play.  Here is more on the Dover connection. Songline visited Shakespeare Cliff. Plinius looked for it in the play. Here are Shakespeare playing cards. Here is Laurence Olivier playing Lear, Act IV, Scene 6, on the heath near Dover.

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Photo by Mike138 used under a Creative Commons license.

Bella Bathurst, The Wreckers (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).
For centuries, inhabitants of Britain’s coasts have supplemented their livelihoods with the goods and material from shipwrecks. The march of technology — lighthouses, steel hulls, GPS — has made the seas safer, but far from safe, and wrecks still come ashore, though fewer coastal communities can rely on a steady flow of them. Bathurst’s book travels around England to the most dangerous locales for shipping: the Goodwin Sands, off Kent; Pentland Firth, off northeast Scotland; the Scilly Isles; the West Coast; the Thames, where man was a bigger threat than nature; Cornwall; and the East Coast. Bathurst also wrote a terrific book about Scottish lighthouses.

Google BookSearch gives you a preview, and the author offers this from the introduction. Pedro Caleja has an excerpt too. Kathryn Hughes (The Guardian) says it is, appropriately, a kind of shimmering net of possibility rather than a definitive documentary account. Michele Hewitson (New Zealand Herald) calls it a treasure. Bill Saunders (The Independent) says Bathurst has opened a magic casement on to a lost world on the edge of living memory. Michael Upchurch (Seattle Times) says it’s irresistable. Andro Linklater (The Spectator) cannot recommend it too highly. Philip Marsden (The Times) says is it more than a collection of fine yarns and colourful facts. John Schauble (The Age) calls Bathurst a competent journeyman storyteller. Sara Wheeler (The New York Times) says Bathurst an accomplished stylist. Puke Ariki’s reviewer says the book pares the romance from the business of ship-wrecking to reveal an ugly world of avarice and brutality. Piers Brendon (The Telegraph) says one doesn’t know how much of it to believe. Tim James says it is among the finest writing on Cornwall.  Jay Taber was enthralled by the detailed descriptions of the geologic and maritime factors that contributed to the colossal tonnage of flotsam and jetsam on the shores of Scotland, England, Cornwall, and Wales, not to mention the Orkneys and Hebrides. Peter Ross interviewed Bathurst for the Sunday Herald. You can listen to this interview with her on NPR.

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Photo by *TONI.R used under a Creative Commons license.

Nicola Barker, Darkmans (Harper Perennial, 2007).
Daniel Beede, on the high side of 60, is estranged from his son, Kane, though they live together in a flat in Ashford, England, near the northern terminus of the Chunnel.  A welter of other characters are linked to them in various ways: Gaffar, a Kurdish refugee; Elen, a podiatrist; Isidore, Elen’s troubled husband; Kelly, who has more mouth than smarts; and many others.  Ashford has the troubles of a modern town — traffic, development — but the book is haunted by a centuries-old jester.  Trying to sum up the plot is a fool’s errand, but do not be deterred by the book’s length — Barker’s prose beguiles  and sweeps along, and the pages fly by.

Here is a short bio of Barker.  Patrick Ness (The Guardian) says Barker’s linguistic energy never lets up. Sylvian Brownrigg (The New York Times) calls it a broad, funny, deeply strange book. Hugo Barnacle (London Times) says the bulk of the book is inventive, witty and well staged. Matt Thorne (The Independent) says it’s all about chatter. Laura Miller (Salon) calls it fat and sassy, vulgar and brainy.  Nick Owchar (LA Times) thinks it’s for readers who enjoy nimble wordplay. Alan DeNiro calls it full of paradoxes. dovegreyreader says it checks in as the ultimate latter-day social novel. Kerry Clare says it will leave you feeling like you’ve been hit by the most marvelous train. Suzanne Kleid (KQED) says it’s the first 838-page novel that has ever seemed too short. Kirsty thinks it’s an eminently readable doorstop. Stewart McAbney couldn’t break the shell to engage with what was going on. Curt Gardner is glad he discovered it.  Matt Todd calls it a surprisingly tight and restrained affair.  Gwen Dawson gave it three stars out of five.  Jo Case says it may be the best book she’s ever read.  Justin Bauer (Philadelphia City Paper) says Barker sets a full table. Tom Payne (Telegraph) thinks it could easily become a cult book.  Stephen Lang calls it a modern-day ghost story about the past.  Robyn Ettely says it sure moved along. Sea says some parts are like a bad dream the reader has the privilege of being in but not suffering. David found it bleak yet funny.  John Self thinks Barker gets away with quirkiness.  Peter Konieczy says Barker’s sort of history is clogged with all sorts of debris that floats up at unexpected moments. Barry is tempted to say it’s a book about a man who wants to have repairs done to his house.  Victoria calls it the epitome of creative unruliness.  Jessica Coleman says your book group shouldn’t read it.  Kimberley says it’s a story about history.  Gale says it leaves a reader feeling unsettled.  asd would marry Barker if she weren’t straight.  Vikram Johri says Barker’s sleight-of-hand works on several levels.  kirsty was left feeling that she wasn’t clever enough. Carl Kessler found it unreadable, and quotes a sentence. Brandon Keim says Barker’s prose layers banality on top of virtuosity on vernacular on OCD, emulsifies it with compassion, bakes it in a casserole dish of curiosity.  Tyler Cowen thought it underrated.  Alex Clark interviewed Barker for the Guardian. Marshal Zeringue has another interview.  Here is Mary McCallum on Barker’s desk.

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