It is one thing to seek to redress the balance. It is quite another to subject the reader to a barrage of repetitive justification. Tolstoy takes numerous swipes at the “frenzied accusations” and “embittered rancour” of O’Brian’s detractors, and “a vociferous ill-natured segment of the London press and would-be literati”... Try as he might to redeem O’Brian, Tolstoy tends only to make matters worse. The cash-strapped stepfather toiling on his manuscripts with his steadfast wife Mary is irascible, obsessively secretive, depressive, harsh, hypersensitive, snobbish, child-hating and chippy... By the end of this long-winded, minutiae-filled apologia, instead of setting the O’Brian reputation gently amidships, he has clumsily holed it below the waterline.
"One Booker shortlist later, Galley Beggar were proved correct. Ellmann’s novel isn’t perfect, and it may not take the prize, but in a world where Ian McEwan is still at large, something introspective and richly painted is a tonic for us all...."
— The Daily Telegraph
4.25 out of 5