qatsi (qatsi) wrote,

Ethel and the Pirate King

Book Review: The Gadfly, by E L Voynich
I strayed across this book whilst perusing rosamicula's substantial collection of unwanted books - apparently it was a duplicate. I had no idea of the story, but it was immediately appealing because of Shostakovich's famous score for the film of the book.

Ethel Lilian Voynich sounds like she was quite a character - daughter of George Boole, who gave us Boolean logic, wife of Wilfrid Michael Voynich (after whom the Voynich Manuscript is named), and sometime acquaintance of Sidney Reilly, "Ace of Spies". According to some, Reilly's early experiences form some of the inspiration for this book. Plainly, then, it is no coincidence that the Romance from Shostakovich's Gadfly Suite was used in the 1980s television dramatisation on Reilly.

Set in early-to-mid nineteenth century Italy (and published in 1897), the tale encompasses politics, revolution, romance and betrayal. The striking thing to me about the opening chapters is the overbearing religiosity; of course, this turns out to be pertinent as the book progresses. There's a hint of melodrama here and there, but for the most part it's just a plain good read. The revolutionary theme - the struggle against Austrian occupation - explains why it was so popular in the Soviet Union, although as British expatriates, the main protagonists are perhaps a little too middle-class to be true Heroes of the USSR. Ultimately, there is tragedy: no "Socialist realism" ending.

I can't remember the last time I read a book without a copyright statement in the front of it. This is a classic that deserves to be more widely known. I cerainly shan't be casting aside this copy.
Tags: books
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