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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 22 February 2013
Having recently read a book about Samuel Johnson and his friendship with Richard Savage, I looked forward to reading this book about Johnson's friendship in his later life with Hester Thrale, who lived from 1741 to 1821, and whose writings are a vital source of information on Johnson's life. Her eldest daughter, another Hester (nicknamed "Queeney") was born in 1764 and died in 1857, and lived a full life, marrying the 1st Viscount Keith.

The novel begins with a prologue, though set in 1784 (after the main action of the novel), when a body is removed from a house to be taken for post mortem. At the time, the reader is not aware of who this corpse belonged to. The story then moves by chapters through the years 1765 to 1784, with the relationships of Samuel Johnson, Hester Thrale, Queeney, and their family and acquaintanced (including Johnson's household, Mrs Thrale's mother and other children, and more well-known figures such as David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Joshua Reynolds and others) moving through the years. Interspersed between the chapters are brief letters from Queeney dated from 1807 onwards, addressed to Miss Laetitia Hawkins, daughter of Sir John Hawkins, a friend for some years of Johnson, and to Fanny Burney.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book; I can imagine it would be a bit confusing in parts if you approached the book with no knowledge of eighteenth-century England, or of Samuel Johnson and his circle. But the writing is engaging, the story-telling captivating, and the characters conveyed empathetically, although you did feel that none of them came across as particularly loveable. Totally recommended.
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on 29 May 2015
I am very wary of reading what I call `mockumentary' or the genre of mixing documentary evidence with fiction because in amongst the truth there is dotted viciously or gently (depending on the writer) dollops of the writer's own assumption, prejudice and outright agenda to bend the truth into something other.
I did, however, enjoy reading this novel as I know nothing about Samuel Johnson...and, until I do my own research, still know nothing about Samuel Johnson; so I decided to read the storyline and all the characters of the novel as fiction.
The novel is narrated through the letters of "Queeney" the eldest child of a pretty dysfunctional family who gave Johnson the run of their home; and partly through the eyes of the author whose use of artistry raises more questions than answers. No matter how many times the story is read, the questions are left unanswered.
There are underlying allusions to sexual perversion and tension but essentially it is a story about the suffering of those who are born into or caught up in relationships that are conditional.
For people reading for the first time I would recommend ignoring any inner voice that is trying to understand immediately what is what and who is who; but just to be satisfied with getting a sense of the story, and then going back and re-reading to put much more of the flesh on the bones.
I know little about Beryl Bainbridge, but only true artists can engage their audience in such a way as in this novel.
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on 18 October 2015
As a fan of Beryl Bainbridge I have been uncertain of her forays into historical fiction- 'Every Man For Himself' (set on board the Titanic) and 'Young Adolf' (an account of Hitler's visit to Liverpool "before he was [in]famous") were lacking something intrinsically necessary- good stories told to their fullest. But 'According to Queeney,' with its focus on the last 20 years in the life of Dr Johnson, is sublime, and easily matches 'The Birthday Boys,' Bainbridge's storytelling of Captain Scott's disastrous attempt at reaching the Antarctic.

Dr Johnson, first writer of an English dictionary, is portrayed as spoilt and childish in spite of (perhaps, because of) his genius. Held in the thrall of a not-altogether reciprocated love for a married woman, Hester Thrale, it is this lady's daughter, the 'Queeney' of the title, who suggests, in her later-year letters (positioned at the end of each chapter), what actually took place. Often there are discrepancies between what we read and what Queeney suggests happened and there is a great deal to consider between the lines- a consideration of the unreliable nature of memory; the bias that any spectator or storyteller will find hard to nip in the bud when directly involved; and the difficulty truth faces when it deals with legends. We hear, for instance, that Johnson's biographer-to-be, Boswell, follows the good Doctor around as if bewitched. Certainly he is too loved-up to recognise any of Johnson's faults. A visit to the Dr's hometown, Lichfield, has its people regaling his guests with stories of a shared history- but the Doctor denies knowledge of ever knowing them. Fame is a distorting lens just as is memory, just as is love or hate. Every thing is a story.

As in other of her books ('The Dressmaker,' 'A Quiet Life,' 'An Awfully Big Adventure') Bainbridge's observations of the working classes are wry and delicious. There is such angst, such life, in the relations between Dr Johnson's servants, and wonderful moments of humour. As a former actress herself it was inevitable Bainbridge would also bring in the character of Johnson's childhood friend, famed actor David Garrick, alongside a whole cast of the notables of the day- Joshua Reynolds, for instance, and Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

This was the last novel Bainbridge published before her death and is perhaps her best. But there are many great novels of hers out there and no doubt more for me to discover- a notion that feels me with delight. She is a great English writer of working class origins and seems to me unfairly forgotten. You could do yourself a favour by checking out her fiction. Start with this book, 'An Awfully Big Adventure' or 'The Birthday Boys.'
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on 4 January 2003
Bainbridge has researched her subject well - I came away feeling that I had learned something about the characters of a number of famous names - James Boswell, Joshua Reynolds, Fanny Burney, etc. However, the tale itself felt disjointed at times with the technique of switching between centuries (Each chapter is interspersed with a letter from the older Queeney, looking back on her family acquaintance). Johnson himself seemed an improbably unattractive character in temperament for a much courted lady to be chasing. In fact, most of the characters have very few endearing features.
It was a pleasing enough book, but not as enjoyable as I thought it could have been.
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on 24 June 2015
Sorry to all those who loved this book, but it takes the distinction of being only the second book out of around 2000 I've read that I stopped after 100 pages. I would agree with those reviewers that have stated there are same great lines in this book, but also agree with those that find the switching between centuries a little contrived and ultimately off-putting. It must be one for those who are fans of the author, or have a particular interest in the historical characters or their period in history. As a standalone it's not engaging and none of the characters have sufficient redeeming features to make me care what happens to them. Apologies if the following 140 pages were earthshattering.
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on 7 January 2002
This was an enjoyable, well-written but ultimately baffling book. It seems like it might have been an experiment to see whether it's possible to write about Johnson in a 'Johnsonian' way i.e. digressive, moody and episodic; if so, it works pretty well. If not, then I'm a bit stumped.
Like a number of Bainbridge's other excursions into historical fiction, like Master Georgie or the Birthday Boys, one is left wondering why the author chose the particular times and characters she's writing about; she doesn't seem particularly close to them; nor do they act as universals, so oddly do they behave. Still, she's a great writer of sentences. Some of them still go on ringing through my head weeks after reading them.
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on 19 September 2001
This is Beryl Bainbridge at the peak of her powers and it is a travesty that she has missed out on the Booker again. It is a dark tale of the complex relationship between Samuel Johnson and his friend and benefactor Mrs Thrale and is executed masterfully.
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on 26 September 2006
From the description on the back cover and extracts of reviews inside, I had high hopes of this book as a work of fiction based on real people and events from the late 18th century. In the event I found it rather dull. Characters appear without any attempt to explain who they were. Some of these are well known historical figures but in other cases it took most of the book to find out vaguely what their relevance was to Johnson's life. This would be fine for a reader who is an expert on Johnson, but for someone without that knowledge it was tiresome. A more serious criticism is that the book is a series of vignettes based on the last 20 years of Johnson's life and as such lacks a compelling story. I finished the book feeling that I had gained a little insight into the social history of the way Johnson and his friends lived, but not much else.
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HALL OF FAMEon 19 November 2002
This is novel number 16 for Ms. Beryl Bainbridge. In addition to these she has written an additional 4 works. Of the first 15 novels, 5 have been nominated for the prestigious Booker Award, however it has never been granted to her work. If there is another writer who has had one third of their work nominated but not rewarded, I have not come across one. Many other awards have found their way to this tremendous storyteller; I hope the Booker Folks catch up.

"According To Queeney", demonstrates once again the ease with which Ms. Beryl Bainbridge can reach, both back into history and to some of the great players of their times, and not only grasp, but create wonderful new tales. The century of choice this time is the 18th, and she chooses the formidable Samuel Johnson as her focus. This person alone would be plenty for most writers, however she has added actor David Garrick, poet Oliver Goldsmith, novelist Fanny Burney, and artist Joshua Reynolds. Each of these people could fill their own book, and more than one has. The brilliance of this work is that the author manages to bring them all together, give them all they're due, and does so in a fairly brief 216 pages. She does not merely name drop or make a passing reference. She manages to make all of the various players memorable; however brief their words allotted may appear to be. The truth is they read with much greater length.

A young counterpoint to Johnson is the Queeney of the title. An extremely precocious child, she is a favorite of Johnson's as well as a talented young mind he seeks to cultivate. This same Queeney becomes a correspondent for a researcher investigating her memories of her young years, as they relate to her and her mother, the latter of the two who Johnson becomes emotionally attached to. The mother eventually becomes available for marriage, and the events surrounding this opportunity bring the threads of the story together, and then to a close.

This is one of the best books that Ms. Bainbridge has written. I hope the people who nominate and then award The Booker Prize, once again nominate this work, which then will cause them to make a decision that differs from those in the past. If they do not, when her next work is released, she will then be the 6 times nominated author for the award.
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on 23 June 2015
I enjoyed this because I spent some happy years in Lichfield and had a close association with the Cathedral while M****** Y**** to use an 18th century stratagem, was Dean. The topography of the city is right, and I remember standing by the Minster Pool with Handel's Sarabande on the iPod. Only error is, as far as I know, that the Swan is at Stafford. Since it was a coaching inn, it must have been around in Johnson's day.
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