In the afterword to "Lord Byron's Novel," its actual author describes it as "the foregoing piece of impertinence." John Crowley's latest book...
“Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land”
by John Crowley
Morrow, 467 pp., $25.95
In the afterword to “Lord Byron’s Novel,” its actual author describes it as “the foregoing piece of impertinence.” John Crowley’s latest book includes an entire apocryphal novel supposedly written by famed British poet Byron, “The Evening Land.” Though it’s an impertinent undertaking, it’s also a beautiful success.
Crowley’s mastery of the language makes him an impeccable mimic of the various voices necessary for the telling of this multilayered tale. Chapters of “The Evening Land” alternate with notes on its text by Byron’s daughter Ada (who wrote the first computer program in 1842), and e-mails sent between a fictitious Web designer named Smith Novak and other modern-day discoverers of the “novel’s” long-lost manuscript.
Poet Byron’s fatalistic yet humorous viewpoint emerges clearly through Crowley’s artistic impersonation, highlighted by plenty of dashes, capitals, italics and eccentric Scotticisms such as “for aye” in place of “forever.” Ada’s sections, at first carefully written in semi-stodgy Victorian prose, evoke in their deterioration a scientific mind coming to terms with love, loss and overwhelming pain. The breezily modern exchanges between Smith Novak and her lover Thea; Smith and the head of the feminist history of science site she’s working for; and Smith and her convicted-sex-offender, Byron-scholar-turned-filmmaker father provide a perfect complement in tone.
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Though written in diverse voices, the component parts of “Lord Byron’s Novel” revolve around one grand theme: the special love fathers and daughters share. Byron, a celebrity notoriously described as “mad, bad and dangerous to know,” was forcibly estranged from Ada, just as Smith’s father is from her. In the “lost” manuscript Crowley creates, longing and genius engender a vision of forbidden face-to-face meetings, and broken promises made whole.
Both charmingly romantic and stoically realistic, the resonance of Crowley’s elegant homage is proof that, as Byron’s contemporary John Keats said, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”