"The Fabian Waltz" is a witty romance set against the backdrop of late Victorian London, where poverty is all but ignored. Playwright George Bernard Shaw's life and work are upended by a challenging woman he cannot win. Shaw and his fellow Fabians fight for social justice and discover love along the way.
With a healthy dose of wit, a sprinkle of charm, and a strong foundation in the historical, Hall deftly brings luminaries of literature and economics to life in this stylized romance set against the backdrop of England at the end of the Victorian era. Told from the viewpoints of Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Beatrice Potter, and others, the author employs several narrative modes to spin his yarn, with excerpts from private diaries and key passages written in an epistolary format. Each voice is quite distinct, some bombastic and pompous and others refined and searching.
While the novel’s themes are plentiful and well-thought out, particularly its viewing of the lives of these characters through the sociopolitical lens of success and socialism, Hall’s wide-ranging interests preclude the page-turning plotting common in many popular historical novels. On the surface, the work appears to be an almost Shakespearean romance– ostensibly about the life of George Bernard Shaw, complete with theatrical dialog and over-the-top protestations worthy of the author of Man and Superman/s “Don Juan in Hell.” Hall relishes veering into vividly descriptive character studies that, while bright and sharp and rich with historic detail, nevertheless diminish the novel’s narrative urgency. The characters’ pontifical and pretentious turns of phrase are divisive by design: they’ll delight some readers and disenchant others.
The true strength of the piece lies in the flowing dialog and the unvarnished look at the these larger-than-life figures.Wilde’s guilt over the effects of his infamy on his beloved sons adds depth to a man too often depicted as merely profligate. Potter’s absolute devotion to her role as a woman and writer of intellectual substance is balanced by a quiet examination of her hopes and fears as a woman–not simply a social investigator or socialist. Coupled with quaint, evocative illustrations, the novel’s vibrancy and eloquent style offer an entertaining, illuminating study.
Takeaway: A charming, eloquent character study of Shaw and some of English lit’s luminaries.
Great for fans of: Peter Ackroyd’s The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, Alan Ayckbourn.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A