A Life Cut Short
By Peter Ackroyd
(Nan A. Talese, Hardcover, 9780385508001, 224pp.)
Publication Date: January 20, 2009
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Gothic, mysterious, theatrical, fatally flawed, and dazzling, the life of Edgar Allan Poe, one of America’s greatest and most versatile writers, is the ideal subject for Peter Ackroyd. Poe wrote lyrical poetry and macabre psychological melodramas; invented the first fictional detective; and produced pioneering works of science fiction and fantasy. His innovative style, images, and themes had a tremendous impact on European romanticism, symbolism, and surrealism, and continue to influence writers today.
In this essential addition to his canon of acclaimed biographies, Peter Ackroyd explores Poe’s literary accomplishments and legacy against the background of his erratic, dramatic, and sometimes sordid life. Ackroyd chronicles Poe’s difficult childhood, his bumpy academic and military careers, and his complex relationships with women, including his marriage to his thirteen-year-old cousin. He describes Poe’s much-written-about problems with gambling and alcohol with sympathy and insight, showing their connections to Poe’s childhood and the trials, as well as the triumphs, of his adult life. Ackroyd’s thoughtful, perceptive examinations of some of Poe’s most famous works shed new light on these classics and on the troubled and brilliant genius who created them.
PETER ACKROYD is the biographer of William Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, Dickens, Blake, and Thomas More, and the author of the bestselling London: The Biography. The subject of his previous Brief Life was Isaac Newton. He has won the Whitbread Biography Award, the Royal Society of Literature’s William Heinemann Award (jointly) and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and is the holder of a CBE for services to literature. He is the author of Thames: The Biography. His novels include The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (winner of the Somerset Maugham Award), Hawksmoor (Guardian Fiction Prize), Chatterton (short-listed for the Booker Prize) and most recently The Fall of Troy. He lives in London.
“Ackroyd is like a literary spiritualist who summons up the voices of the dead and encourages them to possess his writing…. [Poe] is as short and sharp as a flick-knife.”
“Ackroyd reveals a man ahead of his time, an extraordinary genius…”
“[a] deft, lively summary”
“Ackroyd…makes the reader want to re-read Poe, and indeed to read more of Ackroyd on Poe.”
–Scotland on Sunday
“Poe’s brilliant, erratic, abbreviated career stands to gain rather than lose from the form of brief life patented by Ackroyd. A short biography is not a long one shrunk. Instead of patiently accumulated details, emotional complexity and architectural shaping, it operates by lightening strikes, atmospheric colouring, impressionistic techniques of concision and suggestion.”
“With an adept ventriloquism Ackroyd weaves together contemporary testimony with his own crisp narrative…a vivid recreation of the life and sensibility that lay behind the work.”
“A dark subject, but a light read”
–Waterstone’s Books Quarterly
“admirably captures the heady mix of the esoteric, grotesque and thoroughly modern in Poe.”
“Peter Ackroyd is the Micky Spillane of English letters; scarcely a morning goes by without a brilliant new novel, history or biography popgunning out into the shops from his uber-fecund pen… his standards are high and his imagination and erudition greater than most other shopfillers…. informative, still atmospheric, and from time to time clearly the work of a very fine writer”
“Such a Hammer horror biography–a veritable car-crash of a life–is tailor-made for a writer such as Ackroyd. He sustains its intensity in these 160 pages”
“an apt biographer for Poe”
–The Irish Times
“informative and well-written”
“succinct and elegant … illuminating”
–Times Literary Supplement
“[Poe] recounts Poe's tumultuous and peripatetic personal and professional life in a tone equal parts crisp and Gothic.”
-Los Angeles Times
“Often insightful, sometimes stunning.'