Friday, August 29, 2008

Sweetsmoke Review - A Correction

I've had a short conversation with David Fuller, author of Sweetsmoke over the last two or three days about his book and one of the comments I made about it in my August 21 review. I don't think that Mr. Fuller generally makes it a practice to respond to reviews so I appreciate his willingness to discuss mine with me and to, in fact, give me the opportunity to set the record straight on one of the points I raised.

I enjoyed the book and my review was generally a very positive one but I did question the believability of two aspects of the story. Mr. Fuller sent me an explanation of both my points and, in the first case, I find that I missed a key element of the story that explains away my doubts about the main character's ability to read and write at a rather sophisticated level.
From my review:

"The reader is asked to believe, for instance, that Cassius, a man who had just a few days in which to learn how to read and write, is able to do both so well that he is able to comprehend all the nuances of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar when he steals his master’s copy of the play and to forge the passes he needs to seemingly authorize his travel away from Sweetsmoke on his own."

Mr. Fuller's response ("bolding" added by me):

"In fact, Cassius begins to learn to read over a three week time period back in 1857. That was five years before the novel begins, and in the ensuing five years, Cassius continues his reading education with Emoline (you can find that information on page 48). I took liberties with the timing of Cassius coming into contact with the texts of THE ILIAD as well as JULIUS CAESAR. All writers learn to telescope time from Shakespeare, and I wanted to give the reader an opportunity to experience Cassius’s initial attempts to grapple with Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer, so I placed this within the context of the narrative. Realistically, he would have been likely to read THE ILIAD earlier, with Emoline’s assistance. But I took the liberty as I wanted the reader to experience Cassius’s first encounter with the god Apollo. Five years seems to me to be more than enough time to take on a first reading of Julius Caesar, as well as more than enough time to learn to forge passes."
I have gone back and re-read page 48 and I find that the detail concerning the number of years that Cassius studied with Emoline escaped me by the time I finished the book. That information completely invalidates the point I made in the review and I am pleased to correct the wrong impression that I inadvertently gave.

Mr. Fuller, over at the official Sweetsmoke website, comments on another point I made in the review and discusses some of the research upon which he based that aspect of the novel. If you're interested in more of Mr. Fuller's thoughts, just click on the link I've provided to that site. While you're there take a look at the rest of the site and you'll likely find yourself placing Sweetsmoke on your TBR list.
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