England is in the grip of riots, engaged in an unpopular war with France, suffering from poor harvests and freezing winters. Shaking with anxiety at the French Revolution, the government becomes increasingly repressive.
These are the 1790s, decade of turmoil and radicalism, enlightenment and romanticism.
His Last Fire contains nineteen stories set in 1790s London, the Welsh Marches and East Anglia. We encounter the radical hairdresser who thinks he’s caused the death of a fellow rioter, the woman who runs a coffee house and spies on her husband, the soldier who will shoot the king, the mutineer who returns to the East Anglian coast to search for his first love. There’s a lawyer on the run, an irascible Shakespearean actor, an illiterate housemaid with an aesthetic eye.
Characters appear in one narrative then reappear in another: the mistress of the king’s would-be assassin has her own story; a footman employed by a notorious actress and novelist surfaces a second time, tending his new master whose obsession becomes madness; the woman loved by the arsonist of the title story, appears as her younger self in two of the final narratives.
Each story has grown from a grain of truth, sometimes a real character, sometimes a true event, however small. Each is imaginatively recreated to reveal the human situation within.
‘This is the best kind of historical fiction: the past is freshly and energetically reimagined in Alix Nathan’s intricate and interweaving tales. She cuts against cliché, against cosiness. She leaves her reader restless, curious, wanting more. She is an original, with a virtuoso touch.’