James Shapiro’s Contested Will, Roddy Doyle’s The Dead Republic and The World that Never Was by Alex Butterworth

“It is authoritative, lucid and devastatingly funny, and its brief concluding statement of the case for Shakespeare is masterly,” wrote John Carey in the Sunday Times of Contested Will, by James Shapiro, which “tells the story of the generations of sceptics who have denied, over the years, that Shakespeare wrote the plays that bear his name.” For Jeremy Noel-Tod in the Daily Telegraph, “the author of 1599 has in some ways written a follow-up more original than his earlier success”; Contested Will establishes Shapiro’s “credentials as an investigative scholar”, though “some of the assertions he makes away from his specialist field suggest the simplifying habit has become second nature – as when he helpfully informs us that Henry James was ‘no stranger to Shakespeare'”. Contested Will is “the most intelligent book on the topic for years”, concluded Michael Dobson in the Financial Times. In describing the various theories, “and explaining their appeal, Shapiro achieves superhuman feats of politeness”; the book is “a terrific read, but fully explaining the authorship controversy isn’t a job for a Shakespearean scholar: it’s a job for a pathologist”.

“Like its predecessors, The Dead Republic skilfully weaves together its facts and its fiction,” Nick Rennison wrote in the Sunday Times of the final volume in Roddy Doyle’s Henry Smart trilogy. “Henry’s narrative voice retains the vigour, the energy and the directness it possessed from the beginning of his story. Yet the final part of the trilogy suffers from Doyle’s determination to cram so much significance into the trajectory of his antihero’s life.” For Roger Perkins in the Daily Telegraph, “Doyle’s eye for the light and shade of style and register in Irish speech and his dissection of the island’s shibboleths are masterly, but the Hollywood episodes . . . read like schematics rather than windows into character . . . the enterprise turns out like a fat professor on a bike – it’s big, it’s clever but it doesn’t half wobble.” Cole Moreton, in the Financial Times, concluded that “The story is all. It is told with pace and verve and bitter, black humour. There is lovely, brutal detail, as well as a grand swoop over the timeline of Ireland and America, just like the kind of film they just don’t make anymore . . . Yes, you do have to suspend disbelief, quite often, but Henry is so compelling, his story so powerful, that it’s worth it . . . Go with the story. It’s magnificent.”

“One of the most absorbing depictions of the dark underside of radical politics in many years” was how John Gray in the New Statesman summed up The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents by Alex Butterworth: “A riveting account, teeming with intrigue and adventure and packed with the most astonishing characters. One cannot help wishing there were more extended analysis, however, for when Butterworth does offer broader observations, they are exceptionally astute.” According to Sheila Rowbotham in the Independent, the study “conveys the labyrinthine coils of conspirators and spies with graphic panache. Butterworth . . . is less successful at conveying how his revolutionaries and anarchists came to hold ideals of a better world so profoundly that they were prepared to forego the ordinary delights of life, and even to accept death.” For Christopher Howse, reviewing in the Daily Telegraph what he deemed the “sometimes bewildering narrative” of a “mad world”, “London was to anarchists then what it was to become to Islamists a century later.”

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