A comic odyssey through the world of 18th-century London trash journalism.
In Brill’s (Live @ Five, 2013) latest novel, handsome, personable Leeds Merriweather is employed by Charles McNabb, the ferret-faced editor of the London Tattler-Tribune in 1765. Leeds is a patterer, a performer who stands at busy crossroads and dramatizes the top, most lurid stories for passing crowds. “Life is constantly delivering important lessons,” he realizes, some “more painful than others,” though one lesson he refuses to accept is McNabb’s callous pronouncement: “You were made to patter, not to publish. That is your proper lot in life. Accept it.” Ever since he was a boy at Wittyglib Manor, his family’s ancestral home, Leeds has dreamed of writing and publishing his own material, not hawking the headlines of others. He’s still frustrated by his boss’s judgment when he happens to encounter the famous Benjamin Franklin. Leeds notices that he has the kind of face you might engrave on a bank note, then stops himself: “Rubbish, I know. What country would be insane to the point of putting a commoner on its currency?” In the course of their conversation, Leeds conceives his “grand invention”: instead of shouting headlines, he’ll perform a newscast, complete with commercial breaks, every night, for the paying patrons of the Tamed Shrew tavern. The proprietress, a widow named Anastasia Fullbright, eventually warms to the moneymaking prospects of the gimmick; in one of his many clever winks at pop culture, Brill echoes Billy Joel: “It was a pretty good crowd for a Saturday and Mrs. Fullbright gave me a smile. She knew it was me they were coming to see.” Leeds’ plan is complicated not only by his forlorn love for the unattainable Kate Jasper, but also by the rise of rivals to his newscasting act. Brill juggles all these elements with considerable skill, and his Dickensian London is vividly evoked.
A fine historical novel and a witty, effervescent satire of media saturation.