In her debut novel, The Lodger, Louisa Treger melds fiction and history in order to bring to light the life of a remarkable and near-forgotten female writer. In her time, Dorothy Richardson was lauded for having reinvented language and revolutionized the art of writing; yet her name has fallen into the shadows despite her achievements and, indeed, despite her connections to some of literature's icons: she was a contemporary of Virginia Woolf and the lover of H.G. Wells. In The Lodger, Treger introduces readers to a newly imagined rendering of Dorothy Richardson's life, from the traumatic burden of her mother’s suicide to her passionate search for identity in the time of the women’s suffrage movement. With much inspiration drawn from Richardson’s autobiographical fiction writings, The Lodger tells a story of deep emotional significance and reveals a character of great importance to the history of literature. Our journey with Dorothy begins just as she meets the incomparable H.G. Wells, the husband of her dear school friend and a writer on the cusp of fame. Known simply as Bertie to his friends, the larger-than-life characterization of Wells captivates the narrative from his first scene with relentless energy and engaging charisma. Treger has a clear knack for capturing the vivacity of her characters and searing their unique personalities to the page; her skill is evident in many of the book’s characters, but especially in Dorothy, whom she presents clearly and with touching empathy. Dorothy is deeply elusive, harboring her feelings even from the people she grows closest to, but she also maintains an intriguing emotional complexity. The combination makes her particularly unforgettable and inspires a renewed curiosity about this woman long hidden by history. I found in Dorothy a certain fragility, a sense that she was under the control of many people throughout her life – first controlled by the torment of her mother’s death, then by the inexhaustible sway of H.G. Wells, and later by the pressures of societal constructs when she meets and falls in love with a determined and fickle suffragette, Veronica Leslie Jones. While it would be easy for The Lodger to become a novel about the people and events that happened to Dorothy Richardson, Treger instead utilizes both Dorothy’s complex emotional expanse and her eloquent nature as a writer to really engross the narrative in the way Dorothy may have thought and felt throughout these experiences, and how they could have shaped her life and writings. That, for me, was the core reason why I enjoyed this book so much, though ultimately it offers substance at every angle.
The Lodger is a lovely addition to a burgeoning subgenre of biographical fiction, a niche that seems rather progressive in the way it’s drawing new interest and exposure to the people of history, in some cases illuminating the humanity of famous faces and iconic names, while at other times introducing us to important people who, for no particular reason, eluded popularity and therefore slipped away from the notoriety they deserve. Having known nothing about Richardson before the novel, I found The Lodger to be a terrific introduction to her, but beyond that I also found it to be a worthy introduction to Louisa Treger as a novelist, who navigates her debut with beautiful, simplistic prose and rich emotionality. The Lodger then becomes a doubly special book, bringing to light the life of one of history’s vital women writers while at the same time delivering to the literary world a new writer of poise, intelligence, and feeling.
The Lodger by Louisa Treger Publisher Thomas Dunne Books Source: Goldberg McDuffie Communications (c/o) Release date: October 14, 2014