Some time ago, I read The King’s Touch by Jude Morgan (about James, Duke of Monmouth) and loved it, so I’m surprised it took me so long to read Morgan’s latest novel, The Taste of Sorrow.
The Taste of Sorrow tells a familiar story, that of the Bronte sisters’ childhood, rise to fame, and premature deaths, but Morgan manages to make this oft-told story seem fresh. He doesn’t do this by telling his story through an unusual perspective or by adding sensational elements; rather, he accomplishes his task through exquisite writing, a dry wit, and rich characterizations. Though all of the Bronte siblings emerge with distinct personalities, I especially liked the character of Anne, who’s given the honor of uttering one of the funniest lines of the book following a particularly spectacular spree by the sisters’ wastrel brother, Branwell. Morgan also does a fine job with Patrick Bronte and with the Hegers.
I would have liked it if the novel had devoted a little more time to Charlotte’s life after the deaths of her siblings, instead of a single chapter, but that’s not so much a criticism as just a wish that this book could have gone on a little longer. As one who enjoys author’s notes, I wish Morgan had added one, or at least indicated which sources he found most useful, though it’s clear that he’s researched the lives of the Brontes and their circle thoroughly.
Familiarity with the Brontes’ novels will add to one’s enjoyment of Morgan’s novel, but it’s not a prerequisite, so don’t let a lack of such familiarity keep you from reading The Taste of Sorrow. It’s one of the best historical novels I’ve read, this year or any other year.