Book review: The Tutor by Andrea Chapin

The Tutor by Andrea Chapin
The Tutor by Andrea Chapin

If Shakespeare’s mind can be viewed as an open book, his enigmatic life story and his private passions remain an unwritten chapter.

What inspired his prodigious talent, who was the muse for his greatest poetry and where did he spend those infamous ‘lost years’?

Debut novelist Andrea Chapin has picked up her quill and left her home in Brooklyn for a journey back to 16th century Lancashire to bring us a seductive, soaraway flight of literary fancy with an irresistible young Will at its heart.

In the style of hit film Shakespeare in Love, the man who shaped the course of western literature becomes the star of his own personal drama in an entertaining story which pitches the 26-year-old aspiring playwright into a maelstrom of religious strife when he takes up a post as tutor to a Catholic family in rural Lancashire.

In Chapin’s capable hands, those ‘lost years’ are transformed into a delicious feast of murder, intrigue, witchcraft, high passion, high treason… and poetry.

In 1590, headstrong young widow Katharine de L’Isle lives a comfortable but solitary existence in her uncle’s Lancashire home of Lufanwal Hall until the family priest is murdered for his Catholic sympathies and her uncle is forced to flee the country.

The Lufanwal residents struggle to cope and old rivalries fester beneath the surface. Into the midst of this upheaval comes William Shakespeare, a rude, flirtatious and wickedly witty new schoolmaster from Stratford.

Will appals high-minded Katharine but the discovery of a mutual love of poetry draws them together and she soon finds she can’t stay away from him for long. Seduced first by his words, and then by his passion, Katharine knows that Will already has a wife.

Alone, vulnerable and entangled, Katharine is plunged heart and soul into a passion she cannot control. Meanwhile, scandal and intrigue are growing around her family and worst of all, the more she learns of charming young Will Shakespeare, the more it seems that he is not who he claims to be.

She may be his muse but will she ever be his true love?

Chapin’s imagination moves into flamboyant overdrive as Katharine and Will yield to their passions and playfully vie for intellectual supremacy, whilst all around them politics and religious unrest conspire to put them in the gravest danger.

Shakespeare aficionados will revel in the literary allusions – there is everything here from The Taming of the Shrew and Henry V to Macbeth and Venus and Adonis – but there is also romance and mystery aplenty.

This is a fictional Will at his intellectual best… clever, calculating, confident, sexy and powerfully ambitious. He meets his match in the enchanting, smart and desirable Katharine, the woman who becomes his teacher, his muse and his lover.

Beautifully imagined and brimming with life and love, passion and peril, The Tutor is a literary treat.

(Penguin, paperback, £8.99)