Andrew Paul Wood
Breaking Ranks by James McNeish (HarperCollins, 2017), 304 pp., $35
When James McNeish passed away last year he left behind a significant body of prose, specialising in historical novels and (in the modern parlance) ‘creative non-fiction’. In practice, his books are impossible to categorise, which is entirely part of their charm. His persistent theme was the salvage and apotheosis of the romantic, larger-than-life individual directly or indirectly shaping the course of world around him (and it was usually a ‘him’), preferably doomed or otherwise frustrated in their potential.
The form and feel will be familiar from McNeish’s 2003 book The Dance of the Peacocks, ultimately owing much to Sebastian Faulks’ 1996 The Fatal Englishman and the likes of Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians (1918) and G.K. Chesterton’s literary biographies: that is to say, they owe as much to whimsy as they do to cold fact. [Read more…]