Blog Tours Book Reviews

Blog Tour: The Improbable Adventures of Miss Emily Soldene

About the book

‘I rode on the stage in such style, that the men in front forgot I was a girl, and also forgot to laugh.’ 

From humble beginnings as the daughter of a Clerkenwell milliner, Emily Soldene rose to become a leading lady of the London stage and a formidable impresario with her own opera company. The darling of London’s theatreland, she later reinvented herself as a journalist and writer who scandalised the capital with her backstage revelations. 
Weaving through the spurious glamour of Victorian music halls and theatres, taking encounters with the Pre-Raphaelites and legal disputes involving Charles Dickens in her stride, Emily became the toast of New York and ventured far off the beaten track to tour in Australia and New Zealand. In The Improbable Adventures of Miss Emily Soldene, a life filled with performance, travel and incident returns to centre stage. 

My review

This book is evidence that truth is, if not stranger than fiction, at least every bit as colourful, dramatic, and scintillating. Set against the vibrant backdrop of Victorian music halls and theatre, Emily Soldene’s is a story you’d expect to find in a blockbuster rather than a biography. There is something novelesque about the way Helen Batten tells it, perhaps because she sprinkles excerpts of Emily’s memoir throughout it; perhaps because she is in the unique position of being one of Emily’s descendants. This detail adds an intimate sheen to the already engaging writing, resulting in a work that is as enjoyable to read for its voice as its extraordinary content.

There is no doubt that the content is indeed extraordinary. Magnificently uncovering the world of 1800s showbiz, it upturns Victorian stereotypes and allows Emily’s character to shine in all its audacious glory. Emily Soldene’s escapades and Helen Batten’s narration are vivid enough by themselves, but the additional photographs add that extra layer of immersion: all packaged in a beautiful book that’s a pleasure to display on your bedside table. 

Book Reviews

Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin

You’d think a biography would pale in comparison to a flesh-and-blood diary with first-hand descriptions of The Great Fire of 1666 and The Great Plague of 1665. Not in this case! Far from being a dry mirror to the diaries, Claire Tomalin’s biography reads almost like a novel, her prose as lively and absorbing as Pepys’ own.

Samuel Pepys is searingly honest and self-aware in his diaries. He impressively avoids the temptation of presenting himself in a favourable light, instead preferring to state events how they happened – even if he ends up coming across badly.

The chapters in this biography are split thematically rather than chronologically, allowing Tomalin to dive deep into Pepys’ mind and experiences without disruption. This structure ensures depth, but doesn’t stop the book from feeling exciting and fast-paced. Tomalin’s analysis seeps into the gaps of Pepys’ diaries and fleshes them out beyond their limited time frame.

Reading this biography was so transporting it often made me feel like a rather voyeuristic fly on Pepys’ wall – although I wasn’t sorry to return to the 21st century after reading of the anaesthetic-less surgery he endured to remove a bladder stone the size of a tennis ball!

I didn’t know much about Pepys before reading this book, and assumed it might be a slow read. Instead, I raced through it like a beach read – it’s utterly gripping and you won’t regret adding it to your bookshelf one bit.