|A dollar well-spent. Who knew that a traditional, rather stodgily-written English novel by an old English Dame of the British Empire set in the 18th century and starring some ancient decrepit dude who wrote a dictionary could be as entertaining as this one? |
Contemporary doctors diagnosing in retrospect variously theorize that Samuel Johnson may have suffered Tourette's, Aspergers, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and almost certainly clinical depression—perhaps even all four. Not to mention, though I will, gout, dropsy, colitis, and acid reflux. Probably he had dandruff, too. Back then, though, he was simply considered "eccentric." It was a simpler, in many ways, kinder, more tolerant time. Today, his many abnormalities would make Johnson a socially-ostracized basket-case destined for over-medication. But they also make him a surprisingly fascinating character upon which to base a novel.
Bainbridge follows the latter part of Johnson's life and, specifically, his infatuation—possibly more—with a married woman in whose house he is a regular guest with overnight privileges. Queeney is the woman's daughter. She's the cool-eyed witness of her fickle mother's vanity and unfaithfulness, though she retains a certain affection for Johnson himself, who, despite his temper tantrums and self-absorption, is a kind of lovable, if blustering and offensive, ultimately well-meaning buffoon.
The novel is short but hardly an easy read; it's beautifully written in that dense, decorative, mellifluously English way, which reminds you that these are the people who invented the language in the first place. As a consequence, they like to make use of as many of its words as they can in as musical a manner as possible. A straightforward sentence is almost an anathema.
Improbably enough, "According to Queeney" almost got me interested enough in Samuel Johnson to search out Boswell's "Life of Johnson." But then, between one thing and another, it sort of just didn't happen.