This is a novel told by a singular voice writing her memoir. Or shall I say their memoirs. Our narrator is Dora Chance who once lightly traipsed the British Vaudeville boards back in the day with her twin sister Nora. They have not only lived ‘life upon the wicked stage,’ but have been forever witness to a sprawling family drama that began before their birth and continues on to the next generation. The girls are the unacknowledged daughters of Sir Melchior Hazard, the greatest Shakespearean actor of his day--think of a combination of Ralph Richardson and Michael Redgrave (both of whom sired acting dynasties)--with the looks of Laurence Olivier. Later Sir Hazard goes on to have ‘legitimate’ children, which give rise to several generations of half-sisters and brothers, current- and ex-wives, children and grandchildren, all making their living via stage, screen or TV studio—the drama never stops. And Shakespeare is like their happy puppeteer making them dance amid a profusion of twins, cross-dressing heroines, hints of Hamlet and Lear, with the bluster of Taming of the Shrew and dark luster of The Tempest. And of course through the incisive voices of each character, Ms. Carter illuminates the lives of all her people, but most especially the women.
To keep up with the family connections takes a bit of work. If you don’t want to work that hard, the delightful editor of the Wise Children Wikipedia article has provided a family tree for the novel. This book is for when you want to be just a tiny bit challenged, but end up so happy you read it.