Christopher Hart

The Caribbean Queen

The Empress of the Last Days

By

Jonathan Cape 358pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

SOME NOVELS ARE spoiled by the author’s doing too much research. Jane Stevenson’s latest is spoiled by the characters’ doing too much research. They are forever poring over obscure tomes in the British Library, or popping into the Bodleian (‘the Bod’) to check up on some obscure historico-scholarly reference. Although the reader may be just as much of a bibliophile as the author, this tendency in the characters hardly moves the plot forward with any great urgency, except in the hands of a master of the form such as Umberto Eco. Instead, The Empress of the Last Days (like A S Byatt’s Possession, an evident progenitor) totters forwards like a determined but overburdened bluestocking carrying a hundredweight of venerable leather-bound books on her back.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'One of the reasons for its longevity is that it has virtually nothing to say about science and technology at all,… ,
    • 'The characters in many of these stories are trapped in the obsessive present tense of their own thoughts; in the m… ,
    • 'Libraries, for much of their existence, have embodied in microcosm many of the characteristics of the totalitarian… ,
    • 'Moss and Cynthia buy several properties through which to launder their ill-gotten gains, take lots of drugs, have… ,
    • 'Never mind the imperial cult. This is the cult of Boris. What happened to Rome?' From the LR archive:… ,
    • Thirty-two years ago this month, we published Muriel Spark's short story, 'A Playhouse Called Remarkable' Read it… ,
    • Time travel, bicycles and white horses populate @WomackPhilip's roundup of children's books by @marcussedgwick,… ,