In a frank, first-person narrative, a sometime journalist from a nineteenth-century English country town chronicles the first three decades of his life. He is talented and well intentioned, but his craving for acceptance traps him in a life he despises. Ineffectual attempts at rebellion only worsen his predicament, and he is told what he must do to atone. Though the task is dangerous and illegal he is too weak to heed his misgivings, and goes along with the plan.
I bought 'The Spire Chronicle' out of affection for Salisbury; I read it because it is a page-turner. The manuscript was, allegedly, hidden some hundred and fifty years ago by an author using the pseudonym 'Ralph Chatterforth'. Ralph writes in the style of his time about characters with outrageously Dickensian names who share similarities with Dickens' characters. The real-life town of Salisbury, under whose cathedral spire the story unfolds, parallels Dickens' London in its mixture of gentility and grime. However 'The Spire Chronicle' is not a parody or imitation. Ralph writes about his desires and inner life with a freedom unthinkable for a Dickens' character, sparing us no details of their consequences. There is no Dickensian happy ending. Ralph's actions in the closing pages, when his only choices are between different evils, are appalling, and their outcome uncertain. Yet they are a bizarre triumph, for at least he is thinking for himself.
Well-researched, tightly crafted, thoroughly recommended.