I bought The Players and the Rebels, sequel to The Player's Boy, hardcover on sale, a small matter of 30 years ago. I believe my copy is now worth several hundred dollars were I willing to part with it, which I'm not. Naturally I was desperate to get TPB. No one had it: it was long out of print. Interlibrary loan system was in its infancy in those days (hell, far as I'm concerned computers were in their infancy. The university went to computer in '74, when I was working in their Records office, and the record-keeping got three months behind in two weeks.) Somehow and with difficulty I prised Toronto's one existing copy out of its library system and devoured it. Several times, in fact, because I knew I'd probably never get the chance to read it again. The result was that I can still quote certain passages by heart. If only my memory had displayed the same tenacity with kanji, she sighs.
Fast forward to now, with a strong loonie and me with disposable income- circs that didn't obtain even four years ago when TPB was rereleased in paperback. Why not buy a second-hand copy? I go online. Amazon.ca has three used copies "starting at $800." Uhh, yeah. Some nice English bookstore has the paperback, pristine condition, for $40. I take it and it comes within the week, proving that Canada still favours her former owners.
I sit down to read. Hisashiburi da naa, 30-nen goto ni... And am at once put off by the sniffy introduction, where some aunt-like person tells me that Forest did extensive research but still got details *wrong* like yanno the main relationship of the book, which Aunty says would have been impossible at the time. In the first place, so what? Who cares if she gave Burbage a bunch of living children when in fact all of them died in infancy? And in the second, I'm not convinced just on Aunty's say-so that Elizabethan society was so stratified that no minor aristocratic sprig would ever befriend a commoner; and to finish, so what if it was? This is a novel, not a history book. Constipated po-faced twit.
Alas, when I first read TPB I didn't know anything about Forest herself. Internal evidence suggested that she was a Polish Catholic, so her stick-in-the-mud reaction to the opening of the church in the 60's- expressed via that unlikable prig, Patrick- was at least explicable. But she wasn't. She was a convert. Now, for the benefit of those here who aren't cradle Catholics- which I believe is all of you- I'll mention the innate condescension of born Catholics towards converts. Or at least born French Catholics to converts. Catholicism is no big deal when you're born into it. It's like the weather: mass, saints, fasts, confession, holy trinity, consubstantiation, all that, is nothing strange and wonderful or even remotely remarkable. It's just there. You're part of it and it's part of you and what of it?
Thus the uhh what's the word for nesshin? ok, fervency- of converts looks, well, a little daft to us. Like fangirls entranced with Japan before they actually live there, or people over here shrieking about OMG TEH CRACK!!! of whatever manga series it may be, when it's... well, not particularly cracky as manga on the whole go. What's the fuss, we wonder. It's just the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is no big deal. But if born Catholics think converts in general don't quite get it, it's nothing to the way they think about people who convert and then have fits when the Church doesn't meet their expectations. You thought you were getting rock-solid patriarchal authority, no ifs ands or buts, and the gratifying assurance that the Church's practices are set in stone (surprise, surprise, the people I knew who wanted that all had more than a hint of the authoritarian to their make-up.) And now when the Church finally removes some of its most disfiguring petrifications, like doctrinal anti-semitism, you're shrieking Nous sommes trahis! Yeah, well. Poor sweet babies. Try the Baptists next, since you insist on shopping for religions.
What I don't get at all, though, is the fact that Forest converted from Judaism. I mean, if you want rock-solid authority and the real thing, that's where you look. Most of us are barred from looking there: you really have to be born to it. And if you were born in the club and decided that the johnny come lately club next door looked better... well, it makes no sense to *me.*
Anyway, I'm getting hints of all that here at the start of the book and I don't like it. So maybe if I keep on reading past perfect!Anthony Merrick so perfectly!Forest's mouthpiece, I'll get to the good bits. At least her Shakespeare is neutral and unpartisan; and occasionally cool to the point of unpleasantness, which perversely pleases me as being a corrective to other people's canonization of him. I'm dolefully certain that Shakespeare himself was as much a prick as Mozart: because as Forest herself pointed out, what people are has no connection to what they can do, and most people are more selfish and self-absorbed than not.