Cover Image: The Young Pretender

The Young Pretender

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England in the early 19th century. William Betty, generally known as Master Betty, who was a real-life child actor, was celebrated and feted at the aged of just ten throughout the land for his dramatic skills on the stage. However, as is often the case with child prodigies, fame and fortune rapidly declined as he entered adolescence. Ten years later, he attempts a comeback on the stage, known now as Mister Betty, having piled on the pounds. But he meets a number of challenges back on the boards and uncovers some hitherto unknown surprises of his child career.

It is a short novel about the perils and pitfalls of celebrity; even over 200 years ago, greed, deception and the desperate need for novelty surrounded the vacuous bubble of national fame, which could rocket a hitherto obscure man or woman into the frenzied limelight, and quickly cast them back down again into obscurity. While the novel presents an appealing study in the early 19th-century dramatic experience, as well as the hazards and idiocies of extravagant celebrity, the story does not entirely absorb and lacks the essential narrative fascination and drive. The format of memoir and reminiscence gives the novel a feel of a rather naïve autobiography, which is perhaps the intention of the author, but does not make for irresistible reading, though the tale is capably told and well written and has a sound historical foundation.
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Based on a real person, this is the story of William Betty, an acclaimed child actor in Georgian England.  At a very young age he was on the stage, acting parts designed for much older actors, and became the pet of society, adored by all the 'ton' and invited everywhere, meeting royalty and prime ministers.

We meet Betty when he is some years older, as his precocious acting career ended, his studies at university terminated early in order to be with his dying father, and he now intends to return to the stage.  He looks through the many memoirs written of his original career, and coupled with his mother's memories, begins to reconstruct the experience as he tries to relaunch his career, but with little success as he is no longer a beautiful youth but a paunchy man.

We learn about the theatre at this time - the hushmen, the rowdy audience, throwing apple cores and orange peel onto the stage itself, the importance of 'being seen' rather than actually attending to the play.  There are some wonderful moments.

Betty eventually discovers the darker side of his youth, how his father gambled and wasted his earnings, and possibly pandered him to disreputable men.  What he remembered and what actually happened don't originally match, but he begins to piece it together and the theatre loses its shine for him.  

An interesting, historical tale, obviously padded with fiction but very cleverly so, it gives an insight into celebrity, which is very poignant.  Sometimes I struggled to work out whether he was talking in the present or his past.   An enjoyable read.   Thank you to NetGalley and Quercus Books for allowing me access to the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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A charming and witty historical fiction based on a real characters. It was the first book i read by this author and I was fascinated by the excellent storytelling and the style of writing.
The historical background is well researched and vivid, the characters are fleshed out.
It's an entertaining and brilliant story that I strongly recommend.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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The Young Pretender is an absolute masterpiece.  It’s a long while since I enjoyed a book so much.  I’d never heard of Betty, a child actor in Regency England who was flaunted by society and entertained all with his performances.  This is the story of his attempt to make a comeback.

Michael Arditti’s research appears to be meticulous. I was swept into the time period; every page is rich in the language of the time and it’s rather like being an actual observer of events.  Betty is a fascinating, compelling and sometimes irritating individual, but the themes of fame and adoration of superstars is one that resonates.  It was the cover of the book that hooked me initially and I’m so pleased I was hooked in.  It is simply brilliant.  Entertaining, packed with detail and a genuine treasure if a tale. Whatever genre you usually enjoy, this will lift and inspire. 

My thanks to the publisher for a review copy via Netgalley.
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This scrupulously researched account of a child star in the early nineteenth century English theatre is strikingly contemporary in some of its resonances. The story of a young life preyed on by minders and ultimately ruined by fame is one that echoes through twentieth century Hollywood and 21st century pop legends. The author is so faithful to his period that you will see and taste the full flavour of of an actor's life at the time, when a leading social figure's approval could makeor break you. It's an enjoyable read, even though there were times when the lead character's lack of clarity and perception drove this reader to distraction!
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Michael Arditti’s “The Young Pretender” is the dramatised true story of a successful child actor in Regency England, William Betty, who makes a return to the stage in young adulthood, and his battle to be taken seriously after his initial success and subsequent fall from grace amid scandal. The story is narrated by him in the first person in the form of a memoir.
The erstwhile Master Betty, now Mister Betty as he is often at pains to point out to people, often comes across as slightly conceited and convinced of his status as God’s gift to the theatre, but this may be a defence mechanism against his fear of failure. He barely recalls his childhood fame, so much so that he is forced to read about himself, and often comes into conflict with his peers as his past comes back to haunt him. 
The sights and sounds (and, indeed, the smells) of the theatre are vividly evoked, as is the societal norms of England in this era. The story is told in the present tense, a modern literary trend that isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I don’t mind it because I think it adds an immediacy to the narrative. Skilfully written by Arditti in the florid style and language of literature of the time, the narrative flows easily and is a joy to read. 
A fresh and intriguing exploration of the fickleness of fame, incredibly timely in our modern celebrity-obsessed culture, “The Young Pretender” is a concise, beautifully written and poignant story.
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THE YOUNG PRETENDER feeds on high-brow language that both supports the time and place of the narrative, and acts as a coy reflection of Mister Betty's predilection for the stage. As such, it provokes a  confrontation with his own image, even his own legend. It also appears as a tear in the cohesive shape of remembrance, which colors in the abstract relationship between the past and the present.

Mister Betty's retracing of his past, locked behind the blurred gloss of youth, is interesting in theory, but too little emphasis is placed on this mystery to truly register with the reader. Still, the prose takes on a wonderfully fibrous texture as it shapes itself into a memoir. Its threads tighten around bits of humor, sensibility and, paradoxically, a lightscape of self-deceit. It's a shame, then, that there's not much of a story to snare us. While jovial and coquettish, Betty's return to the stage fails to leave much of an impression, since we're never given the tools, or time, to develop an emotional connection to his character. His progression from play to play also lacks tension and aim, leaving us largely disoriented.
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