First Fiction Fridays: New Albion

September 9, 2016

Dwayne Brenna’s experience as an actor, writer, and professor of drama drives the passion behind his first novel, New Albion. The work is loosely based on incidents that occurred in and around London in the winter of 1850-51. The book follows the lives of the actors of the New Albion Theatre in London’s East End, as they band together in the face of every obstacle (and there are many).

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What:

New Albion (Coteau Books, 2016)

Who:

Dwayne Brenna is the author of several books of humour, poetry, and non-fiction including Eddie Gustafson’s Guide to Christmas, Stealing Home, and Give My Love to Rose. He has acted at the Stratford Festival and has appeared on television in various nationally and internationally broadcast programs and in movies.

Why you need to read this now:

Dwayne Brenna’s experience as an actor, writer, and professor of drama drives the passion behind his first novel, New Albion. The work is loosely based on incidents that occurred in and around London in the winter of 1850-51.

The book follows the lives of the actors of the New Albion Theatre in London’s East End, as they band together in the face of every obstacle (and there are many). Included in the eclectic mix of characters, and central to the story, is the company’s elderly stock playwright Ned Farquhar Pratt, who is addicted to laudanum (a deadly narcotic painkiller) and is struggling to survive the winter.

Through the journal entries of the stage manager, Emlyn Phillips, we get a taste of what theatre life was like in the 19th century: from the diverse, maudlin troupe of actors that are involved in every scandal under the sun (including, but not limited to, robbery, unwanted pregnancy, and multiple affairs), to the fight against the establishment, as the theatre’s own reputation – hindered by its location and “sketchy” (at best) audience – is constantly called into question by a police commissioner demanding “morally upstanding” plays.

Couple that with the theatres futile attempts at maintaining a firm grip on their drug-addicted (as well as stubborn and inept) playwright, and you have a dynamic and fast-paced character-driven novel by an author who has thoroughly researched the era and makes Victorian England come alive.

Readers not only get a taste of theatre life in the 19th century, but London itself, as Phillips – a single father raising his daughters in the city – describes the homelessness, poverty, and oppression rife at the time.

However, the seedy London underbelly does not take away from the chaos and frivolity that abound inside the New Albion; the juxtaposition between the London streets and the bustling theatre life is part of what makes New Albion such a strong work of historical fiction. Anyone who’s a fan of theatre or literary fiction will appreciate this work.

 

X plus Y:

New Albion combines the lightheartedness of Funny Girl by Nick Hornby with the passion and finesse of the acting world in Michael Blakemore’s Next Season.

 

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Thank you to Coteau Books, especially to MacKenzie, for connecting us with this dramatic new read. If you love discovering new authors, check out our previous First Fiction Friday picks.

 

 


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