Traces Remain: Essays and Explorations
Allen Lane, 2011
It’s some months since I reviewed a book. Yes, I get through books only quite slowly, mainly because I always have a pile into which I dip and the only time I get for reading is in bed last thing at night. But after the first hesitant foray this book kept me hooked, albeit for just three or so chapters at a time.
History leaves traces of the people of the time in portraits, documents and books. Nicholl is the acclaimed author of The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (which I read ages ago and found fascinating, but didn’t review here), The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street and Leonardo da Vinci: The Flights of the Mind (which is on my “must read” list) amongst his dozen or so books.
In Traces Remain Nicholl reprints 25 essays written over a period of almost as many years. They are a mix of the biographical, literary, historical and curious; glimpses through time, poignant vignettes and curious, intriguing puzzles. We’re taken from a mysterious painting found in a Hereford house, via a new Jack the Ripper suspect to the hunt for gold in El Dorado.
The essays were first published in a variety of British newspapers and magazines including the London Review of Books, TLS and the Daily Telegraph. They vary in length from four to over 30 pages. Yes, they are journalism, high class journalism, but none the worse for that as they are well written, concise, never stodgy, often probing and keep you reading.
That should tell you how much I enjoyed this book; it is a fascinating read especially for the collector of the byways of things historical. I especially liked the essays on Marlowe, John Aubrey, Leonardo da Vinci and the Jack the Ripper suspect. And it is on people where, at least for me, Nicholl is at his best; some of the other essays got a less thorough read, which is the only thing stopping this getting a five star rating.
If you want an introduction to Nicholl’s writing before delving into his full length works, or you want some interesting essays to dip into at bedtime (indeed any time!), or you just want some curiosities, then Traces Remain is well worth a reading.
Overall Rating: ★★★★☆