This is a terrific book, a dramatic, sad, but also richly funny account of some of the most famous characters in late-Victorian London. Here we have fascinating, waspish glimpses of Oscar Wilde, of the most revered actor/manager of all time, Henry Irving, and the gorgeous, beautiful Ellen Terry.
We even catch sight of Walt Whitman, WB Yeats, and (of course) Jack the Ripper, whose bloody rampage through London’s East End grips all society.
It’s a fabulous read, full of insights, gossipy, and bursting with camp humour. And O’Connor is so wonderful at writing in the Victorian style: he never strikes a wrong note.
The main character is Bram Stoker, a rather sad but clever man, making a living out of managing Irving’s Lyceum Theatre. Stoker dreams of being a brilliant author but fears his talent is minimal. Sadly, he dies before his Dracula becomes the world-wide phenomenon it still is. A truly great book you simply cannot put down.
At the same time as Victorian theatre star Sir Henry Irving was at the pinnacle of his success, Jack the Ripper was marauding around Whitechapel, and his spectre looms large in this excellent story.
Everyone is scared; everyone is fascinated by the killer. Bram Stoker, a mild-mannered would-be author and theatre manager, drinks too much and has blackouts where he finds himself wandering through the night across London. The reader is half-encouraged to speculate if Stoker is indeed Jack. But it’s a beautifully baited tease.
His book is all about love and friendship; success and disappointment. Victorian theatre and the extraordinary characters who worked in it are wonderfully drawn. O’Connor clearly loves actors.
Sexuality and gender are fluid in O’Connor’s 19th century London. Sexual inclinations that can’t be acknowledged in society – the love that dare not speak its name, all that – affect not only Oscar Wilde but also Stoker and his great friend, Irving. The American poet Walt Whitman is one of Stoker’s mentors: in O’Connor’s mind, sharing Bram’s hidden bi-sexuality.
O’Connor’s Bram Stoker is a wonderful character, sad and self-critical, but also full of poetry with a strong nose for evil. Hence his great creation – Dracula. Shadowplay is complex, rich, sad, funny, and a beautiful read. You’ll LOVE it.