Shakespear's Local, scheduled to the book of the week on Radio 4 and getting separate publication in American, looks set to be Pete Brown's biggest book. But it's my least favourite of his works and I'm not sure if it's his fault or mine.
Having already been to a talk about the book before reading it turned out to be a bit like watching an overly long film trailer that shows all the best bits. Entertaining though the talk was it did take some of the excitement out of the book when I got to bits I'd already heard about.
This book is also noticeably slimmer than his previous work, and whilst Hops and Glory was a fat book that got slimmed down, Shakespeare's Local at times seems like a thin book that's been padded out. The author does have a witty writing style but clearly at times he doesn't have much recorded history to work with and there's only so far you can go inventing imaginary conversations and laughing at overly long historic book titles.
As a dedicated beer nerd I was surprised to see at one point Pete bets his life that Shakespeare drank beer. In Shakespeare's time the distinction between unhopped ale and hopped beer was still quite clear, as was his preference: for Shakespeare, it appears, ale was fit for kings and beer only for fools. I fear the gallows could be calling...
Discussing Shakespeare a bizarre theory from a previous historian of the George Inn that Shakespeare didn't actually exist
is mentioned, but as I also have a fascinating for religious schisms, it's disappointing that the ale angle isn't. At one point English Catholics considered the hop to be a Protestant plant, so could Shakespeare's shunning of beer be more evidence of his Catholic sympathies? This fascinating (to me) ale/beer religious split connection is the sort of thing I ponder and I'd have been interested to see what Pete Brown's made of it, but I guess I'll have to settle for the fact that some minority interests are just too minority.
After a lull in the middle I thought the book picked up again as the amount of historical data increased and the author had more material to work with. A long term landlady of the pub is the real star of the book, but I guess her marketing potential can't compete with The Bard's. I did rather surprisingly spot a modern historical error as there's mix up of the Barclay Perkins Anchor brewery at Park Street and the Courage Anchor brewery at Horselydown, but the two do cause a lot of confusion.
Did I like this book less than the others because I'd heard some of it before or because the book just isn't as good as his others? I don't know, and most reviews are glowing, but I'd be interested to hear what other people think of it.