Cannonbridge – Jonathan Barnes
Release date: February 10th, 2015
Age Group: Adult
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Something has gone wrong with history in this gripping novel about a lie planted among the greatest works of English fiction.
Flamboyant, charismatic Matthew Cannonbridge was touched by genius, the most influential creative mind of the 19th century, a prolific novelist, accomplished playwright, the poet of his generation. The only problem is, he should never have existed and beleaguered, provincial, recently-divorced 21st Century don Toby Judd is the only person to realise something has gone wrong with history.
All the world was Cannonbridge’s and he possessed, seemingly, the ability to be everywhere at once. Cannonbridge was there that night by Lake Geneva when conversation between Byron, Shelley and Mary Godwin turned to stories of horror and the supernatural. He was sole ally, confidante and friend to the young Dickens as Charles laboured without respite in the blacking factory. He was the only man of standing and renown to regularly visit Oscar Wilde in prison. Tennyson’s drinking companion, Kipling’s best friend, Robert Louis Stevenson’s counsellor and guide – Cannonbridge’s extraordinary life and career spanned a century, earning him a richly-deserved place in the English canon.
But as bibliophiles everywhere prepare to toast the bicentenary of the publication of Cannonbridge’s most celebrated work, Judd’s discovery will lead him on a breakneck chase across the English canon and countryside, to the realisation that the spectre of Matthew Cannonbridge, planted so seamlessly into the heart of the 19th Century, might not be so dead and buried after all…
‘Cannonbridge’ is one of those few books that demand a lot of thinking and are still very compelling. It tells the tale about Dr. Toby Judd, a man whose life crashes and burns around him at the very beginning of the book. In his state of mental instability he starts obsessing about Matthew Cannonbridge, one of the most famous authors in English history. Dr. Judd has a feeling that something isn’t right about his work. Something just doesn’t fit. When he decides to investigate the infamous author, he stumbles across a lot of mystery, death and secrecy. He makes it his mission to find out what is going on with Cannonbridge and what secret is so important that people would kill for it.
I loved the writing; it had sometimes bordering poetic or lyrical. It might be a bit too much for some people, but for me personally it really fit the story rather well. A large part of this book focusses on authors of the 19th Century in England and this writing style seemed to fortify the feeling of that age and that subject.
The story jumps from present to past, with the flashbacks showing famous English authors at a certain point in their life. Each and every one meets Cannonbridge and we can see the evolution of Cannonbridge’s character through these flashback. The man who started out as a polite, benign stranger ends up a weird and threatening man.
It was very interesting to have these flashbacks to other famous English authors. Most of them I knew (Oscar Wilde, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens…), but some I had never heard of. It was fascinating to take a look online to find out about their background and the works they wrote. It helped me understand their parts in the story better.
The fantastical aspect to the story only became apparent later on in the book, but it intrigued me. It’s not something that’s easy to wrap your head around and it demands quite a lot of imagination. I thought it was very imaginative and original and I loved finding out how everything really worked. It still remains very complicated and though that has it’s charm, it might take away some of the punch, the impact of the big reveal.
Our main character Dr. Judd is that kind of character I like to read about. Very flawed, with a life in tatters. Smart, but still baffled by what he encounters during his journey to find out more about Cannonbridge. There are a few secondary characters that didn’t really leave that much of an impression, but still kept the story going and most of the times also gave the main character the means or the incentive to go on with his investigation.
The very end is heart wrenching, but somehow I’d felt it coming. I’m a bit disappointed that it was this transparent; it could have really been a shocker to end the book with. It’s also interesting to think what this will do in the future to the main character, how he will cope with it. Interesting, but like I said, you could see it coming from miles away.
I ultimately really liked this book; the mystery was tangible throughout the entire book, only revealing the full extent of the scheme towards the end. I could never entirely guess what was going on and I absolutely love it when a book can keep me in the dark like that. It maybe has its flaws and it won’t appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed reading ‘Cannonbridge’ very much.