The Second Person from Porlock

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Pub Date 01 Feb 2022 | Archive Date 05 Nov 2021

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Description

Highgate, London, 1824. Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a washed-up opium addict, estranged from his friends and from his neglected wife. His grip on reality is starting to slip; his past and present mingle in laudanum-induced dreams.

In a Cambridge college library, Scrivener, a bullied undergraduate, finds a strange annotation in a book of Coleridge’s poems. Intrigued by this mystery marginalia and captivated by Romantic poetry, he resolves to become a poet himself, with Coleridge as his guiding light.

Across the sea, Samuele, a young Sicilian, discovers that his mother once had a liaison with Coleridge. He sets out for England to learn all he can about the man who may be his father.

It isn’t long before Samuele and Scrivener cross paths—but will their journeys take them to the real Samuel Taylor Coleridge?

Highgate, London, 1824. Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a washed-up opium addict, estranged from his friends and from his neglected wife. His grip on reality is starting to slip; his past and present...


Advance Praise

‘With no discernible sleight of hand this master storyteller conjures before our very eyes all we will ever need to know about the most famous lines of poetry that English ever produced.’ - Robert Lipscombe, author of The Salamander Tree and The English Project


'In clear, lyrical prose, Dennis Hamley takes the reader on an imaginative journey through Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s life, bringing the characters to life with gentleness and insight.' - Kathleen Jones, author of A Passionate Sisterhood

‘With no discernible sleight of hand this master storyteller conjures before our very eyes all we will ever need to know about the most famous lines of poetry that English ever produced.’ - Robert...


Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9781914148033
PRICE $24.95 (USD)
PAGES 336

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Featured Reviews

A really interesting premise and a really interesting story that I loved every minute of reading. The cover just adds to how interesting this book is

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The Second Person from Porlock by Dennis Hamley is that rare work of fiction that will both entertain the reader with the story and pique the reader's interest in historical (in this case literary) personalities.

Even if you have little to no interest in Coleridge the poet or the literature of the period this book will still be a fascinating story. Yes, there are literary references but not to the point where you have to be fan of the romantics. Their personality quirks work in the story without that extra bit of interest.

If you do like poetry and/or the romantics you will find even more here to captivate you. I enjoy stories that succeed in bringing aspects of a literary figure into the plot. Hamley keeps the old literature teacher in me entertained while also keeping the popular fiction reader in me happy. And it is always nice to have all my inner people on the same page.

While I found the length to be a positive since it kept me in that world longer, I can imagine that some readers who are only interested in either the literary references or the narrative itself may find a few sections a little slow. I would suggest keeping with it because everything really does work together to create a satisfying conclusion.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

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A transporting novel described by the author as “a riff” around the life of Coleridge and centering around his poetic fragment Kubla Kahn and the mysterious person from Porlock, the person whose sudden arrival allegedly caused the poet's loss of inspiration. It’s 1824 and Coleridge, a recluse estranged by friends and family, is often lost in opium-induced visions. His story intersects with the lives of two young men fatally obsessed with finding him, who meet as they embark on their quest through England: George Scrivener, a poor Cambridge undergraduate student and mediocre aspiring poet who, after finding a cryptic scribble in Coleridge’s book library copy, would do anything to grasp the secret of the poet’s visionary writing but is targeted by his more fortunate peers in a dark academia twist; and Samuele Gambino from Sicily, who finds out he may be Coleridge’s illegitimate son (based on rumours regarding Coleridge’s relation with opera singer Cecilia Bertozzi in Siracusa) and sets out to find his father, pushed by the affection his mother still nurtures.

A taut and engaging story, adventurous and suspenseful, brilliantly paced and deftly constructed in a game of correspondences. It makes excellent use of elements from Coleridge’s most imaginative poems (Kubla Kahn, Ancient Mariner and Christabel) which are scrutinised and used as fragments of a detective story aimed at reconstructing Coleridge’s elusive persona. I loved the vivid reconstruction of the various settings, period details and the reality of Sicily. Characters in Coleridge’s literary entourage come alive, too: Coleridge’s wife and daughter, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, the iconoclastic Byron, haughty Robert Southey and amicable Charles Lamb.

It is also a coming of age novel, with the protagonists confronted with failures and choices: Scrivener, for example, is torn between popular fiction and fiction of a higher order, more attention-demanding but deeply affecting. In this respect, behind the veil of Romanticism lurks a very contemporary concern, i.e. the vision of the reader as a consumer and a narrowing down of spaces for literary fiction that challenges boundaries, beliefs and assumptions (a problem recently illustrated by Frank McGurl’s excellent essay The Novel in the Age of Amazon). A true joy to read, and if you are not familiar with Coleridge and the works cited, you will fall in love it.
4.5

Thanks to Netgalley and Fairlight Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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