Tennyson's Gift by Lynne Truss
Well this isn't what I expected at all. I don't remember why I bought it - it's been quite a while - but the cover picture led me to expect a serious story. Instead it's a clever, comical tale of several egotistical, artistic personalities meeting on the Isle of Wight in the summer of 1864 and it's very funny.
First, there is Alfred Tennyson who is on the island with his wife and sons and spends his days reading his own works aloud to himself. Surly and unfriendly, he has very little tolerance for anyone but his own family. Juliet Cameron is a photographer with such an obsession for the good opinion of others that she forces unwanted gifts on everyone she meets. G. F. Watts is a painter who lives off the charity of others and who is married to a beautiful woman with whom he has never been intimate. Then there is Lorenzo Fowler and his daughter, Jessie, American phrenologists who are on the island to put on a show and find new clients. And finally, there is a mathematician called Charles Dodgson, who is actually Lewis Carroll. Once he enters the picture the story begins to take off.
It could be called a comedy of manners, except that most of these people don't have any manners - or they have them but feel no need to use them. I think it would be more accurately labeled a farce. It's quite light-hearted and witty but underneath the comedy are some deeper issues that I think are as well handled as the humour.
All in all Tennyson's Gift made for an entertaining summer read but don't let the fact that summer's over hinder you. You'll enjoy this one anytime.