The Alphabet of Heart's Desire


By Brian Keaney

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3 reviews

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11 Jan 2018

We loved this book!!
This is the author’s first attempt at adult fiction but he has written a number of junior fiction books and he has really delivered a quality novel with this book.

The book tells the story of three characters, one of whom Thomas de Quincy later becomes a writer himself and a friend to the Wordsworth family. The other two characters are Anne a young prostitute and Tuah an African man stolen into the slave trade. The lives of these characters touch over many years without them realising and the story is told by each character in separate chapters. This worked extremely well, the “voices” of the individual characters were clearly recognisable which contributed to the flow of the story.

The book has been extremely well researched with much social history described and explained, from the details of the laundry service using stored urine, to the machinations of the Post Office as a way to access money in different places while travelling was all fascinating.
The author describes the poverty and squalor of the times so well that the reader can smell the stink in the streets.

The individual stories of each character are heart-breaking in their own way, Anne the young girl abused by her step father running away to seek refuge in a brothel where she is put to work. Tuah the African man stolen from his home and family and sold into slavery on the other side of the world. Thomas a man with a comfortable middle class background but fallen on hard times after a quarrel with his family. We follow each of them over a number of years observing how they live their lives in the social conditions of the day. We are able to observe the lives of the three characters as they change and then merge to the conclusion of the book.

This is an excellent historical novel in which the author has taken a few known
facts and woven a very credible story around them. An immersing and completely believable novel it caused our group to have a wide ranging discussion on social issues covering poverty, abortion, drug addiction and the difficulty of living in the times portrayed in this excellent book.
Even our member who hates historical fiction began her contribution to the discussion by calling it “very very good” which from her is praise indeed.

We thought this was one of our best books of 2017.

01 Jan 2018

Bookmarks Reading Group

An interesting historical novel for which the author has obviously done lots of research. The scene of London streets and the life of poor Anne as a teenage prostitute are all too real. I found the beginning slow with the three characters all telling a different tale and it was too long before their lives intertwined and it all made sense. It then became an enjoyable read. Conversely, maybe the ending came a little too soon as I would have enjoyed more about the life Thomas de Quincey in the story rather than as an author’s note at the end. Interesting how laudanum played a part in lives for both the poor and the rich.

20 Nov 2017

This is beautifully written historical fiction with three captivating protagonists. The book is loosely based on the early life of the British author Thomas De Quincey, who was best known for his work 'Confessions of an Opium-eater', and two other fictional characters, Anne, a young girl thrown into a life of prosititution, and Tuah, a slave taken by Dutch slave traders from his home at a young age.

The story is captivating from the very beginning. There is pain, sadness and a touching love story at the heart of this novel. The three strands of the story are woven together in a masterful way.

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