My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Of course this is fiction. Of course it is. Keep reminding yourself because it’s easy to forget in the thick of Jude Morgan’s The Taste of Sorrow. A fictional account of the life of the Brontë sisters this book is so many things all at once. For one, it is excruciatingly slow. But let’s park that aside for the moment. It is also tremendously rich, incisive, sensitive and insightful, brave, eloquent, painstaking, and above all I think of immense beauty.
At one level I was deeply appreciative of the many things I came to learn of the Brontës: the deaths of the older two sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, why Emily Brontë never wrote another novel after Wuthering Heights, and if Jane Eyre was simply a brilliant work of complete fiction or just a little bit autobiographical. At another level, I was simply bedazzled by the sheer gift of this author’s pen. It’s genius. Laborious, sometimes tedious, verbose – but utter genius.
I think it is a matter of incomparable audacity to even conceive of writing a fictional biography of perhaps the most brilliant family of authors of literature. But it’s happened and it has been done shockingly well. I for one I’m terrifically glad that Jude Morgan possesses this sort of audacity. It’s a lot to live up to. It’s setting the bar high, really high; high enough to ensure cataclysmic failure. But you know what? He doesn’t fail. He shines with a rare effulgence.
Astounding are the character portraits he creates of the Brontë family, from the three best known names, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, to the lesser known Branwell, Maria, Elizabeth,to the patriarch of the family the Reverend Patrick Brunty (Prunty, most likely; he anglicised the name upon moving to Haworth parsonage). Sensible but tormented Charlotte, blithe and potent Emily, good, gentle Anne, petulant, chaotic Branwell- they are summoned from the dead.
Reading this book was sometimes an exercise in forbearance. It took me nearly 2 weeks to complete, which is usually enough for me to finish three other books. This reading asks something of you. It is to be a mutual exchange – so if you’re looking only to be entertained this may not be the book for you. This is a commitment so damnably attractive you will willingly, achingly long to fall headlong.