Synopses & Reviews
Michael Irwin's The Skull and the Nightingale
is a chilling and deliciously dark, literary novel of manipulation and sex, intrigue and seduction, set in 18th-century England.
When Richard Fenwick returns to London, his wealthy godfather, James Gilbert, has an unexpected proposition. Gilbert has led a sedate life in Worcestershire, but feels the urge to experience, even vicariously, the extremes of human feeling: love, passion, and something much more sinister.
It becomes apparent that Gilbert desires news filled with tales of carousing, flirtation, excess, and London's more salacious side. But Gilbert's elaborate and manipulative "experiments" into the workings of human behavior soon drag Richard into a Faustian vortex of betrayal and danger where lives are ruined and tragedy is only a step away.
With echoes of Dangerous Liaisons, Michael Irwin's The Skull and the Nightingale is an urgent period drama that seduces the senses.
"As Gilbert becomes ever more manipulative, and Fenwick falls in love with another pawn in his patron's game, Irwin creates an atmospheric portrait of the Georgian world in which this ambivalent rake's progress takes place."
Sunday Times (London)
A man eager to make his fortune...
A godfather who initiates a dangerous psychological game...
An extraordinary proposition, one of discovery, pleasure — and pain.
When Richard Fenwick, a young man without family or means, returns to London from a Grand Tour of Europe in 1761, his godfather, James Gilbert, has an unexpected proposition. Gilbert has led a sedate life in the country, but now, in his advancing years, he feels the urge to experience, if vicariously, the extremes of human feeling — love and passion, in particular — along with something much more sinister. He asks Richard to serve as his proxy and to write to him of his city adventures, and his ward believes he has no option but to accept.
It quickly becomes clear that Gilbert desires correspondence of a titillating nature — tales of carousal, seduction, and excess — and so Richard begins to write of London's more salacious side. For here is an invitation to hedonism and Richard, eager to taste all that a privileged life has to offer, rises to the challenge.
But Gilbert's elaborate and manipulative "experiments" into the most intimate workings of human behavior soon drag Richard into a vortex of betrayal, where lives may be ruined and tragedy is only a step away. And when Richard does the unthinkable and falls in love, the stakes are raised and he must make a defining choice. But what sort of man has he by now become?
A chilling and deliciously dark tale of manipulation, sex, and seduction, The Skull and the Nightingale combines the intoxication of Perfume, the sensuality of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, and the exquisite detail of The Crimson Petal and the White. This entrancing novel seduces the senses, bringing vividly to life the heady swirl of eighteenth-century London while exploring the darkest passions and instincts that animate us all.
About the Author
Michael Irwin is an emeritus professor of English literature at the University of Kent in Canterbury, where he specialized in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature. His published work includes a full-length study of Fielding and essays on Defoe, Richardson, Sterne, Smollett, Johnson, and Pope. He lives in Kent, England.