Books by Stephen Marlowe

Released: Oct. 1, 1996

Marlowe's 12th novel (The Lighthouse at the End of the World, 1995, etc.) follows the pattern of his fictional portraits of Christopher Columbus and Edgar Allan Poe, as he surveys the life and times of the Renaissance soldier-writer who was Shakespeare's exact contemporary and who earned immortality as the author of Don Quixote. The story is told by Cervantes, long after his death, and concentrates less on his literary vocation than on his colorful life as a man of action during the days of his native Spain's war with the Turks and its ill-fated attack on Great Britain. The narrative races through Miguel's undistinguished origins as the son of a barber, his defense of his (less than virginal) sister's honor in a duel in which he kills his opponent, his consequent enlistment in the Navy and service at the battle of Lepanto (where he loses his left hand), his imprisonment at Algiers, and his later struggles as an impotent husband and frustrated lover, government spy (during which employment he encounters the similarly occupied Christopher Marlowe), and finally, as a reviled and embattled author. Oddly, the most convincing portions of the story are those in which Marlowe allows us, too briefly, to observe Cervantes the writer—meeting and debating literary art with such worthies as the amusingly Waspish Italian poet Torquato Tasso and with the celebrated playwright Lope de Vega; attempting to memorialize his exploits in abortive plays; and meeting the popular playwright William Shakespeare (who's blandly indifferent to the fate of the stage works he keeps dependably churning out). The story is consistently entertaining, but one longs for some greater sense of the intellectual presence of the genius whose work must surely have been the product of an extraordinary inner life. Here, that life is pretty much subordinated to a recounting of exterior experiences. It would be inappropriate to call this imperfectly satisfying performance Cervantes Lite. Still, one glimpses, and misses, the novel it might have been. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 9, 1995

A novel that brings woe to a small army of would-be Poes is Marlowe's (The Memoirs of Christopher Columbus, 1987, etc.) latest plunge into the past. But, though the tale is enhanced by liberal borrowing from its subject's gothic and macabre fantasies, artifice overshadows art in the frenzy of cloning the artist. The real Edgar Allan Poe has a place here, to be sure, as the details of his marriage to child-bride, later consumptive, cousin Virginia are recounted lavishly, along with the poet's pariah status among the literati and the alcoholic excesses that led to a days-long disappearance and death in a mental hospital. The imagined course of that final week, however, gives rise to a bewildering array of vanishing acts and parallel dimensionsa series of events in which other Edgar Allans interact with characters from Poe's fiction to conduct an international search for his missing brother Henry (dead of consumption in real life). Characters are also caught up in a mystery involving magical shards from a shattered Polynesian idolshards worth killing because they could prevent an ancient cataclysmic event from recurring. As this drama plays out, several beautiful gray-eyed blonds in riding habits, all bearing variations of the Latin phrase noli me tangere (touch me not), provide the other Poes with ample additional complications. After failing to reverse the tragic turn of events in the imaginary realm, Poe and his femme fatale, both hospitalized and dying, reward those on the death watch with a few final mysteries before giving up the ghost. Too clever for its own good: a potentially exciting hybrid of the historical and the fantastic that ultimately self-destructs into an overly manipulated, quaintly academic exercise in parody. Read full book review >