Why Join?

  • Add New Books

  • Write a Review

  • Backpack Reading Lists

  • Newsletter Updates

Join Now

Picaresque globe trotting novel set in the early 19th Century

23rd November 2022

The Romantic by William Boyd. Picaresque globe trotting novel set in the early 19th Century.

Picaresque globe trotting novel set in the early 19th Century

There is such a long tradition of heroic adventurers, off on their travels. Early on there was Don Quixote and there are innumerable books categorised under (picaresque) fictional biography, right through into modern times with variations on a theme. There is the contemporary US by David Nicholls or Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Ross Benjamin (incidentally shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020); or right back to Candide by Voltaire, which I read at school and which was my first encounter with this kind of novel. Not, of course, forgetting the adventures of the indomitable Phileas Fogg and his adventures penned by Jules Verne in Around the World in 80 Days.

The delightful aspect of this novel is that you observe a boy, Cashel Greville Ross, growing into a man and facing all kinds of adult challenges along the way, as he dabbles in a variety of professions, travelling the world, assimilating experiences. I further liked how this felt like a kind of Whac-a-Mole progression because, as a reader, you never know where in the world he would pop up next. From Ireland via London to Ooty in India and back to the Low Countries before heading to Italy.

“From Ostende all Europe lay before him…”

Leaving the army behind him, Cashel is intent on writing a book about his adventures, but he gets as far as Pistoia (where reputedly the pistol was invented) and he questions the breadth of vocabulary to describe what he sees on his travels (after all it is difficult finding a variety of descriptive terms and superlatives to convey the intensity and colour of travel, never mind the horrors along the way). He began to realize that perhaps travel books were only interesting when things went wrong or were arduous, or when expectations weren’t lived up to.

He doesn’t think much of Nice – at that point the city was back in the Kingdom of Piedmont – and then he zips back and forth between France and Italy for a while, where he becomes romantically involved and hobnobs with famous people. Further adventures around Italy ensue and then he then spreads his wings further afield as his journey continues.

The novel has several of Cashel’s drawings and there are footnotes, all giving the illusion of the novel being Cashel’s biography. And that he is a real person! It is an inventive device and this is a very readable and well researched novel, full of detail and whimsy.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

Join Team TripFiction on Social Media:

Twitter (@TripFiction), Facebook (@TripFiction.Literarywanderlust), YouTube (TripFiction #Literarywanderlust), Instagram (@TripFiction) and Pinterest (@TripFiction)

Subscribe to future blog posts

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Join TripFiction and take part in our weekly GIVEAWAYS!

Other benefits of membership include:

   Receiving an entertaining monthly newsletter

   Adding new books to the site

   Reviewing books you have read