Sunday, June 1, 2008

Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

Last weekend, I read "Burning Bright" by Tracy Chevalier. I was drawn to the book because it was historical fiction set in London during the time of the French Revolution. I found that I was easily drawn into the book and the lives of the characters, especially those of Jem and Maggie, the two characters around whom the book mostly centers. Having lived in London and done some travel in the English countryside, I was easily transported to the locales in the book.

Jem and his family have traveled to London from a very small town in mid-western England in order to heal wounds in their family and to make chairs for a famous circus owner, Richard Astley. As the story unfolds, it turns out that Jem's family moves in next door to the rather famous and not-so-popular (at the time) William Blake. Jem meets Maggie who is basically a city street rat whose brash and even dishonest ways irritate Jem's mother, but fascinate Jem. Maggie sets to work right away showing Jem the ropes city life. Jem and Maggie become fast friends and are often found talking with or following the Blakes. They are curious and fascinated by his lifestyle and by his courage in supporting the French Revolution. He is also interested in them, sharing poems with them and showing them his printing press.

The climax of the book is well-written, with Jem's father and Blake being ostracized in the neighborhood for their unwillingness to sign a petition supporting the crown of England. Jem and his family return home and Maggie is left behind caring for Maisie, Jem's sister, who has been taken in by the Blakes. Maggie and Jem are eventually reunited and the story ends away from London. I enjoyed this book very much and highly recommend it for those interested in Blake, late 1700's England, or just a good summer read.

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