Brocaded

Robert Macfarlane

  • The Mulberry Empire by Philip Hensher
    Flamingo, 560 pp, £17.99, April 2002, ISBN 0 00 711226 2

Several years ago, Philip Hensher decided that he wanted ‘to do something impossible: to write a 19th-century novel’. To that end, he has composed each of the many chapters of The Mulberry Empire, which fictionalises the First Afghan War of 1839-42, in imitation of a 19th-century prose writer. He has gleefully scrumped the styles of Dickens, Surtees, Tolstoy, Custine, Thackeray, Eliot, Austen, Gogol and possibly dozens of others – ‘possibly’, because he never names the writers he’s pastiching: it’s up to the reader to identify them.

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