Lemprière’s Dictionary, 1991
The Pope’s Rhinoceros, 1996
In the Shape of a Boar, 2000
Lawrence Norfolk (NAWR-fehk) is a leading British historical novelist noted for his use of intricate detail to set historical backgrounds, the complexity of plots, and the wide array of characters included in his lengthy novels. He was born in London in 1963; however, he moved with his family to Iraq at the age of two. In 1967, in the wake of the Six Days War, the Norfolks were expelled from Iraq; they moved back to England. From 1967 to 1982, Lawrence attended school in Swansea and Bath. He went on to study English at King’s College, London. After graduating in 1986, he began a teaching career, while working toward a Ph. D. Lawrence also wrote a number of articles and reviews for magazines and journals such as The Times Literary Supplement. Looking back at these financially challenging early years, Norfolk pointed to writing as a way to supplement a meager income.
Approximately four years of historical archival research was devoted to gathering factual data for the writing of a 530-page novel, Lemprière’s Dictionary. Set in late eighteenth century England, the novel deals with the adventures of John Lemprière, attempting to write a major dictionary on Greco-Roman mythology, while at the same time unraveling a major conspiracy occurring at the founding of the East India Company which has kept his family from sharing in the fantastic wealth generated by the company in its takeover of India. For its power of language and detail. Norfolk’s first novel earned for him the Somerset Maugham Award (1992) for a first novel and a listing by Granta as one of the twenty best young British novelists.
Four more years of historical research were devoted to the writing of Norfolk’s second novel, The Pope’s Rhinoceros. This massive 730-page historical novel deals with the attempt to bribe Pope Leo X to side with Portugal over Spain in dividing the world. The bribe for the worldly Medici pope is a rhinoceros from India. The novel covers several centuries of European development as well as the growth in power and corruption of the papacy. Norfolk’s stated intention in this massive novel rich in subplots is to reveal history as a cycle of repetitive events filled with conspiracies, betrayals, and violent conflicts. For many readers, the novel seemed too complex and convoluted to follow. For others, it was an intellectually challenging, intensely passionate, and masterfully crafted effort of storytelling well worth the investment of time and effort. Norfolk’s second novel produced for him a loyal following of readers and accolades by the Observer and Guardian about his position as one of England’s most original and brightest young writers.
Norfolk’s third novel, In the Shape of a Boar, followed the four-year cycle of his previous works, but at 336 pages represents his shortest work. The idea for the novel, as Norfolk relates, occurred while researching West African archaeological digs in the library of Northwestern University. Norfolk’s intent was to recapture “lost histories,” namely, lives of interest that have been lived but have left no trace in standard written history. The story goes from ancient Greece, where various heroes try to destroy a monstrous boar, to World War II Greece, where partisans hunt a modern manifestation of the boar in the form of an inhumane Nazi field commander. The obvious parallel was the heroic quest to destroy evil in both its ancient and modern forms. The story leapfrogs through ancient and modern times, ending in a Paris park in the 1970’s, where the hero, a Romanian Jew, reunites with his childhood love. The novel was hailed as imaginative, complex, and a masterful example of storytelling merging mythology and history. Norfolk has used the well-researched historical novel in an effort to use art to extend the reach of history further than the grasp of professional historians, who are limited by the parameters of primary source documents.