The Onion Stone
Ardie Davendish advertises for an assistant to help with his research on Shakespeare. When Henry Shakspeare arrives with some new and startling ideas about the authorship no one foresees the consequences that will follow. Ardie and T.Townsend Ellis, friends and rivals from schooldays, have spent a lifetime striving to outdo each other with a literary ‘scoop’ about Shakespeare. And Henry begins to play them against each other.
Interwoven with the modern rivalry is an Elizabethan love story showing the mystery and scandal surrounding Gilbert Shakespeare and Anne Cecil, the unhappy wife of the Earl of Oxford. Secrets about the identity of Shakespeare are gradually revealed, leading to the final revelation.
What people think of The Onion Stone
The first immersion was for the sake of story ... just the pure enjoyment of a well balanced unpredictable plotline. The second time through was simply to appreciate the poetry, the writing, and the references. To unearth the wonderful pieces of renowned literature, blow off the dust, and appreciate their timeless shine, but also to luxuriate in the fine poetic sense of the author. Mandy Pannett writes poetry, teaches poetry, judges poetry. Mandy has already had four books of poetry published. The language in the book is delicious! Each word or phrase has been selected for its precise meaning, rhythm, and detailed description that only a poet can capture. Pinpoint accuracy and satisfied appetite. Finally, the third time through (but not the last!) was to absorb history, real or fictional. The author sprinkles it generously on this fine feast of words, for my benefit, welfare, health. My grade 9 history teacher is likely still shaking his head ...
What is the book about you ask? Well it depends entirely on what you already know. Some chapters walk us through present day issues, characters, deeds and misdeeds. Noble and neurotic. Other chapters launch us into the 16th century, where we can revel in Shakespeare's muddy world. Two different love triangles exist ... one woman (Frances) is caught in a nasty spider web that dates back to her youth, when she chose between two suitors, and now has to deal with them both, later in life, as they mature into nasty spiders. They fight over scholarly prestige of the unsolved mystery, and she is the fly caught between them. Yet, I like Frances, and rather than perceiving her as incompetent or bullied or blasé, I find her refreshingly feisty, with her own reasons for her own conduct. They may grind on her from the outside, eroding her protective armour, but inside she is spry and smart and self-propelled, rebellious as ever. Shards of spirit still razor sharp. Now Anne is another story. She is stuck firmly in her web, held fast by protocol and position, with a father, husband, and lifestyle to pity. Tension and suspense exists in past and present worlds, as does love and deception, astounding betrayal and adamant devotion.
Mandy's words, research, vast knowledge, and creativity within the confines of an old theme merge together to consider the paradox of reality vs possibility; past vs present; young vs old; pristine emotion vs pouty old crabgrass (the two main male characters, take your pick!). I shake my spear and begin again. Primitive man I am not - I appreciate the genius of Shakespeare, his poetry and plays. I ingest the best Mandy has to offer; a poetic tasteful tale, delivered fearlessly. Driving to Stratford, Ontario (and Greenview Zoo with Shakespeareland) to read the book and write this review seemed fitting; to sit on the banks of our Avon River, in a sunspot of my own, opposite the grandeur of Festival Theatre (celebrating its own historical 60th season in 2012) provides a stellar backdrop for my tribute, my slipping between The Onion Stone layers.
I have shamelessly admitted that my priority for any piece of reading lies as thus: 1) place 2) plot 3) people. In this book, all become equal. I could not wait to get my hands on the first novella by this brilliant UK poet. I cannot imagine reading it on my Kobo (or other eReader device) but needed to activate my senses with each page turned, each chapter peeled, each character sharpened under her watchful eye. I am no scholar when it comes to Shakespeare, but I still love it. His stories and insight activate something within the heart. Mandy leads me gently by the hand through both sets of conflicting relationships, their frustrations, frequent plot twists, truths, assumptions. Many contrasts are mixed; personality, relationships, physical appearances, past/present/future, speculation/research, men/women/children, dreaded and beloved, bossy and resistent, just and unjust, endless possibility and burned bridges, closed doors, brick walls.
She makes each shine. She builds tension until I am almost late meeting my kids at the schoolbus stop. I do not want to leave this imagined but realistic world, made tangible and meaningful and current, just for me. I will return often. I will take my three sons for a spin through her wonderful words. Introduce them to Robert Browning and the other noted poets. I will read this to my daughter until she is perhaps able to read it herself. Mandy is kind and generous to the special needs community, and has included something for every age and stage. For Shakespeare nuts and novices. For actors and audience. For serious English Lits and those just dipping toes into cool refreshing irresistable waters. The book has its own full moon, its own tides and currents, its own comedy and tragedy. I am grateful to correspond occasionally with this "pen pal" chez UK. I am so thankful that Mandy mustered the courage to attack a novella in her sound, profound, poetic way, and that it found its way across the ocean to me. And although there is not a flaw found from stem to stern, my favourite thing about the book is the humour. The wonderful dazzling unexpected nuggets buried between the pages. It is so very serious and sad at times, that the uplifting corners of the mouth moments are truly delicious. My favourite character is a child who cannot speak. My favourite mishap is a confusion of colours. I love every drive taken, every launch into history, every memorable moment. You "WILL" too!!."
F. H. Lee
The two principle twentieth century characters are an ageing academic couple, conscious of time passing, of their fading powers. After many years of marriage their relationship is now made up of a mix of irritation and affection interspersed with poignant wisps of longing for the passion of time past. The interwoven sixteenth century chapters are extracts from letters and journals of key protagonists and anonymous onlookers, of ‘tumbling boys’ and noble ladies. Mandy Pannett is a published poet and she clearly revels in sixteenth century prose, which glitters with the rich imagery reminiscent of literature of that period. Her writing fully inhabits the world of Tudor England without falling into the trap of heavy pastiche. She has a light touch and her use of short chapters and good pacing pulls the reader effortlessly towards the final revelations.
Themes are reflected back and forth between the time spans. We think of the Tudor era as a time of intrigue yet a leading university college may hold ambitions equally intense within its walls today. A noble lady in an arranged marriage in the sixteenth century may have had less freedom than a highly educated twentieth century woman, yet both have to manoeuvre within their social confines. Themes of envy, rivalry, love and disillusion are reflected in both eras and the intense passions of the past still have an impact down the centuries. This novel of just under 200 pages encompasses a greater expanse of time and ideas than many much heavier tomes, while remaining a highly enjoyable novel."
Live registered upon our brazen tombs
"Those words, spoken by the King at the opening of Love’s Labours Lost, kept resonating in my head as I read this highly engaging new novel, for in different ways, all of its chief protagonists are driven by the pursuit of fame: two rival academics vie to be the recognised authority on the authorship of the works ascribed to William Shakespeare; one of them has a long-suffering wife who, though recognised in academic circles, has been overshadowed by her husband’s celebrity and secretly yearns to be recognised as a novelist in her own right; a research assistant stakes his claim to fame by announcing a startling ancestry - and further back, for the novel alternates between the 21st and 16th centuries - we have a William Shakespeare who appears to secure the reputation he has enjoyed for nearly 450 years in a most unexpected way.Disputes about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays have rumbled on for a very long time. Alternative candidates have included Francis Bacon, a mysteriously resurrected Christopher Marlowe and, of course, Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, the latter having a significant part in this new story. But in an ingeniously constructed plot, Mandy Pannett comes up with another potential candidate – and a very surprising one at that. It would be unfair for a reviewer to reveal the twists and turns of the literary whodunit or the teasingly ambiguous conclusion. Suffice to say that the way in which the author layers the accumulation of evidence and surmise across two very different centuries is genuinely suspenseful. In the narrative of the modern world, the voice is that of the author as storyteller, whilst the events of the sixteenth century are revealed in a series letters and diary entries. This requires two very different styles of writing and Mandy Pannett reveals an extraordinarily good ear for the rhythms, cadences and inflexions of Elizabethan English alongside her ability to tell a clear, modern story. In a relatively short novel of just under 200 pages, there is a particular challenge for the writer : how to make the characters (the 21st century ones, at least) rounded human beings and not merely instruments of the plot. For the most part, Mandy Pannett manages this adroitly, giving her central protagonists a shared back-story relevant to the present and weaving around important events the kind of domestic detail that makes the reader feel ‘there’ - paying attention to the weather, for instance, or noticing birds hopping in the garden. If there is a bit of an indulgence, it is in the detailed description of the visit to an exhibition of classic cars at Brighton. True, it gives the irascible Ardie a rare opportunity to be in a good mood and his wife an opportunity to reflect whilst he is engrossed – but I felt that here the author was lovingly describing an experienced event which was fairly tangential to the plot. Not to quibble, however: The Onion Stone is a well-written and thoroughly engaging novel with a vital subject at its heart."
The Onion Stone is a compelling jigsaw of character conflict with Frances, her husband Ardie, and Ellis in a love triangle to mirror the historical ménage a trios of Anne Cecil, her husband the Earl of Oxford, and Gilbert Shakespeare.
Ardie and Ellis are childhood friends whose friendship later turns into rivalry in the academic world, particularly over the question of the identity of Shakespeare, and in their love of one woman - Frances.
For Ellis "the very thought of [Ardie and Frances] hurt like splinters." Ellis has become a slightly reclusive, almost a Morse-like character, self-contained, obsessed with work but still yearning for a lost love, "a girl with rain in her hair". Ardie's charismatic youth has collapsed into a compulsive preoccupation over his rivalry with Ellis. Between the two men, Frances struggles to find her own recognition that has been so long subordinate to her husband Ardie's career. The characters of Ardie, Frances and Ellis are believable and engaging to the point where it felt like they needed told off and that more than one of them was in need of a shake - especially Ardie.
The language of the Shakespearean extracts is poetical and lyrical as well as very accessible to the modern reader. The Earl of Oxford comes across as a selfish, thoughtless, ruthless character, but a man of his time nonetheless. There is tenderness and love between Anne Cecil and Gilbert Shakespeare but we must guess at whether this is friendship or something more. The cruelty and brutality of the times is apparent where women are pawns in marriage and life is lived precariously. The inter-woven intrigue between past and present is excellent and gives depth to the story.
There are some tantalizing questions in both storylines. Such as who was the father of Frances's child so that she needed to find a father and a husband...? Did Anne Cecil have a child by Gilbert Shakespeare? Why did Frances marry Ardie and why did she stay married to him when he seemed to be so very self-obsessed, unfeeling and almost oblivious to anything Frances was doing or thinking or feeling - a mirror of the Elizabethan storyline of Anne Cecil and her marriage to the Earl of Oxford. Most importantly, who is the real author of the Shakespearean plays and sonnets?
Although aspects of The Onion Stone are open-ended, the unanswered questions leave the reader thinking about the book long after they have finished reading it, which leads me to hope that a sequel will soon be on its way. These characters are crying out to be heard further."