Monday, 18 March 2013

Review of 'Wildish' by Robert Parry

You may ask what a review of a book set in Georgian England is doing on a Victorian art blog. The answer is two-fold: Firstly, it is the third book by Robert Parry, author of The Arrow Chest, a book about a Victorian artist of a distinctly Pre-Raphaelite persuasion.  Secondly, I’m not era-ist when it comes to a good read, and Wildish, published today, is a good read.  In fact, it is an astonishing read, and here’s why.

Jacobites 1745 (1874) John Pettie
Set in 1745 during the Jacobean uprising led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, it centres on Matthew Wildish, a poet and Master Wig Maker who has an aspiration to fly.  Not in the conventional sense, you understand, but in a rather more ground-based, metaphoric manner which involves a sonnet series and heavenly bodies.  Added to this is the approaching spectre of war which might destroy the comfortable, libidinous lifestyle that Mr Wildish has endeavoured to secure for himself, and the terrible realisation that after all, he might be in love.

Bonnie Prince Charlie (1898) John Pettie
It’s no coincidence that Mr Wildish also makes masks for use at masquerades, as hiding and pretence are themes of the book.  The Jacobite rebels that march towards London are led by ‘The Young Pretender’ and Mr Wildish himself is pretending to be merely a dissolute libertine whilst he continues to curtail his seductions with acts of kindness and bravery.  The charm and appeal of Wildish is that the central character is a good person, albeit hidden inside a reckless saucepot.  In order to follow him through almost 600 pages of his life, you need to feel able to invest and Matthew Wildish is definitely worthy of your time.  He is a marvellous, mixed-up man, who is brave enough to risk his life in order to infiltrate a brutal army of rebels, but feels powerless in the face of a determined woman. 

The things I love the most about Wildish are the contrasts. The descriptions of the excesses of London are personified in characters such as Lucy Armstrong, who is a gorgeously presented woman, Matthew’s ‘Sun’, whose business is pleasure of all types.  Against this are the passages regarding life in the Jacobite army, desperate yet determined, driven on through all manner of dehumanising plights by the claim of a beautiful young man who would be King.

The continued themes of escape and survival threads through the book, from ‘the man who would fly’ in the opening chapter, to Matthew’s dealings with Lady Snatchal, then the rather more serious affairs of war, dealing with those that live and the fate of those at Culloden.  Just as Mr Parry never stints on the romance, he also reports war in the most certain terms for the visceral sack of nasty it is.

I was surprised by a couple of things when reading Wildish.  Firstly, it is a very funny book.  I didn’t expect to laugh so much and one of my favourite quotes has to be:
‘...expired in the arms of a whore; lying all cold in that horrid place while I have been here listening to a hornpipe with a man under my skirts. I am so ashamed!’ (p.520)
Thank you Mr Parry for the amount of snorty-sniggering I did at that.

The Fugitive Jacobite (1874) William Frederick Yeames
The other thing I didn’t expect was just how saucy it was.  In an age when I roll my eyes at the books on display in the supermarket book section, it was a pleasure to read something that reminded me of some of the naughtier 18th century novels I have read.  I giggled, blushed and learnt something, which is how it should be.

To sum up, Wildish is a big novel that goes by in a heartbeat.  You feel investment in the characters, even the less obvious ones touch your heart with their victories and tragedies.  The humour of it all highlights how damn cruel life can be at times, and how the most wicked actions betray a desire for hope.  Robert Parry has done the unthinkable in my mind, which is to surpass The Arrow Chest with a hefty romp filled with lust, bravery, honour, hope and as many different kinds of love as there are colours in the rainbow.

And you know me, I do love a hefty romp.

Wildish is released today and will be available from Amazon shortly...


  1. Dear Kirsty,
    Thank you so much! I don't think I could have wished for a better start for WILDISH than your brilliant review. I love the choice of paintings, too. I am so proud of it, I shall be tweeting about it and sharing it from here until Christmas! So glad you enjoyed the story of Mr Wildish.
    With Kind Regards,
    Robert Parry


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx