Messiah: Love, Music and Malice in the Time of Handel

Written by Sheena Vernon
Review by Richard Tearle

Harry Walsh is a young boy who is pretty hopeless in the classroom and is taken out of Charterhouse School by his exasperated father. But the boy can sing. Through an old school friend, Peter, who is now Handel’s personal secretary, he finds himself in the employ of The Maestro at a time when the composer’s popularity is beginning to wane. We follow Harry’s progress, his integration into a decadent society and his confusion over his own sexuality, for he and Peter soon become lovers. But Harry finds other lovers of both sexes and their relationship begins to disintegrate.

Sheena Vernon has written a beautiful story, full of wit and humour and introducing so many ‘big name’ characters such as Thomas Arne, Hogarth, and even a brief cameo appearance by the painter Thomas Gainsborough. The cast is littered with great characters from castrato singers to rough chairmen, their language is almost incomprehensible yet so believable. The dialogue is sharp and natural as well as entertaining.

The book is written throughout in the present tense which may be a little off-putting at first, but once the reader gets used to it, they will find it a delight.

Highly recommended