Reviewed by Jess Owen
Lord George Byron was a ‘radical’ nobleman who, in 1809, travelled through Albania in search of ‘the exotic’. He was accompanied on his way by John Cam Hobhouse, a member of the Bristol Hobhouse clan, whose cousin, Henry, was later Secretary of State at the Home Office, where he organised the first modern incarnation of the domestic Intelligence Service.
Tessa De Loo is a Dutch novelist who retraced Byron’s steps with the aid of the journal Hobhouse kept on his travels.”Een varken in het paleis – A Pig In The Palace”, translated as In Byron’s Footsteps is the result. She will be signing copies of her travelogue at Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street on March 30th.
De Loo is a fine novelist, whose work deserves to be better known across Europe. Byron is a poet whose verse belongs to the pedantry of a ‘Literature’ curriculum. With some of my prejudices out of the way, we may turn to the book in question.
Firstly, Tessa De Loo’s prose reads much more fluently in its original Dutch than it does in translation. That is not her fault. That she is represented, in England, by such a work is not the fault of her publishers either. They have done well to bring her to this country, probably in the hope that they will be able to expand her ‘list’ here, as they have done with their Arabia Books titles. Her publishers, The Armchair Traveller at the bookHaus, have some excellent titles in their catalogue. Their Makers of The Modern World series is to be especially recommended. That they sent a less worthy title for review ought not to obscure the fact that they provide a niche service to be proud of.
Much more worthy of the readers’ attention is the accompanying title, The Book of Doubt/ Harlekino. A tale of discovery through the eyes of a young man whose father was a migrant. Saeed goes to his paternal country and there, begins a journey that could be a fable for many in the modern world. De Loo handles her characters carefully and draws the reader gently into their world of imagination and reality.
So, if you buy either book, and enjoy it: their publication will have served a purpose. If, as I did, you find Byron awkward and a bit ‘gauche’, ask yourselves why a perfectly competent novelist, who has quality books to her credit, has to be introduced to an English public through work that requires the ‘name’ of a second rate Scots poet, writing in English, to sell it?
Tessa de Loo will be at the launch of In Byron’s Footsteps at Daunt Books, 83 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4QW on Wednesday 30 March from 6.30pm to 8.00pm.