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A bestseller in Britain, Chatterton is the latest of Ackroyd's fictional games with figures from Britain's literary past. The plot centers around the discovery by Charles Wychwood, an aspiring poet, of an old manuscript that he believes to have been written by Thomas Chatterton, the 18th-century English poet who committed suicide at 18. Or did he? Ackroyd tantalizingly explores the themes of reality and illusion, truth and falsity, mortality and immortality, and the curious and inexplicable ways in which past, present, and future are entwined. An intriguing plot, laced with mystery and a hint of possession (a favorite subject of Ackroyd's), combines with a gallery of eccentric characters and some witty dialogue to produce this skillful, engaging, thought-provoking novel.Bryan Aubrey, Fairfield, Iowa

The ``manifestly clever, darkly humorous'' novel limns an impoverished poet in modern-day London, who discovers that another poet, Chatterton, faked his own death in 1770, and continued to write poetry that was attributed to Cowper, Blake et al. PW called this an ``eminently satisfying tale.'' (Jan.)

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