In Michelle Butler Hallett’s new novel, This Marlowe, the year is 1593; Queen Elizabeth reigns and two rival spies plot as Christopher Marlowe (aka “Kit”) navigates the tides of love, loyalty and betrayal.
Historical fiction demands accuracy and authenticity of the setting. A recurring visual in this novel is a tangerine silk kerchief that appears in the opening description of Kit. However, the first attested use of the word “tangerine” as a modifier did not appear until 1899. The same sequence includes a description of every stitch of Kit’s clothing even though a “blanket outlined his compact body.”
Despite such lapses and an opening that meanders, Butler Hallett builds upon a strong, believable foundation, giving the reader a vibrant sense of the times. Her book feels firmly fixed in the 16th century; the brutality of life and human nature depicted is believable. The writing style is also consistent in archaic form and is maintained from first page to last. This could bog down readers unaccustomed to older language forms.
The mystery surrounding the life and death of Christopher Marlowe is an intriguing chapter in history. In This Marlowe, the number of characters that surround Kit and their interrelated, complex plots pose the reader with an ambitious entry point to the mystery. This book is not for everyone because it demands an effort of attention. And the author offers little in terms of explanation or guidance. There will be no spoon-feeding here; the reader has to do the work.
This Marlowe will appeal to readers who want to learn more about this period, those who are already passionate about the period and to Marlowe fans.