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Last edited: 19/06/2021
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Wesley Stace
530 pages
"Misfortune" is more than a promising debut; it's a fulfilled promise. It's an astounding literary undertaking, and Stace pulls it off masterfully.

Stace is an extremely gifted storyteller. His fiction writing is well served by his talents as a songwriter. His prose is lyrical, direct and momentous; his timing and sense of pace are impeccable. Rose's story is often heartbreaking, just as often hilarious, and always fascinating. She and the people who surround her occupy not only another century, but the furthest and most extraordinary reaches of that century, and yet we recognize them instantly.

I can't think of another novel I've read in recent years with such well rendered scenes of childhood. The scenes with Rose and her playmates capture all the idyllic feelings of wonder, vitality, laughter and the seemingly endless possibilities of childhood--as well as the creeping onset of recognition that things cannot and will not remain this way. Rose's bewilderment--at her loss of invulnerability and her departure from a world where everything is more or less as it should be--is utterly transcendent.

Each character in "Misfortune"--even those who appear for only a page or two--is exquisitely rendered. The Loveall family is populated with some of the most gruesome, petty and awful extended family members imaginable, yet they always remain human--and always hysterical. The scenes with some of the most infuriating and despicable members on the periphery of Rose's new family stand out as the moments of highest comedy in the book.

This is one of the finest, most touching, funny and utterly enthralling novels I've read in years. I found myself wanting to leave social engagements early to get home and continue reading. The book itself also happens to be a design masterpiece: The cover of the hardback edition, and the sublime illustrations are befitting the classic it is destined to become.

In his original first novel, Mr Stace tells the tale of Lord Rose Loveall of Playfield House, affectionately known as Love Hall, which is set in 19th century England. It is the story of an abandoned male child who was thrown on a dust heap in the wastelands of London one night. He was found by Lord Loveall, a man on the verge of mental sanity, who gave him the name of Rose and dressed him in girls' clothes to satisfy a deluded impulse of his own after the death of his sister Dolores and made him/her heir to his fortune. Rose was kept in complete ignorance of her true being with the connivance of her adopted mother.
This rather long novel features a flurry of characters, families, plots and subplots and readers will find quite a challenge to keep track of the relationships between the protagonists.

Fortunately a family tree is provided in the novel, which is quite a welcome help. Nevertheless, it is astonishing what captivating an effect a so-called Victorian novel can have on the reader in the 21st century. Mr Wesley's novel is very well documented and every detail of the complex story-line falls elegantly into place at the end of the narrative.
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