Dr Polidori was the youngest ever graduate in medicine, an unfortunate achievement as, through sheer incompetence, all his patients died. In 1816 he became Byron’s personal physician, travelling with him to Europe and was present at the dinner party in Villa Diodati where Byron, and Percy and Mary Shelley exchanged ghost stories. Polidori came up with The Vampire but it was Mary’s Frankenstein that stole the limelight. For Byron, Polly was the butt of all his jokes and when they quarrelled Polidori returned to England to find that The Vampire had been published, attributed to Byron.
Polidori bore a physical resemblance to Byron, and in a case of mistaken identity he found himself the target of adoration from Eliza, a frivolous young woman besotted with the image of celebrity. Still smarting from his dismissal and flattered by this unexpected adoration, Polidori plays along with the charade with disastrous consequences.
This is Markovits’ third novel, and in Polidori there is a complex character with ambitions above his station, as his own father had always warned, he would ‘suffer from the force of impossible comparisons’. The writing is captivating, the historical background unobtrusive and the reader cannot help but empathise with the characters who, caught up in their own web of imposture, must face the final consequences of their actions.