A Mirror for Monkeys

This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.

Buy this Book on

You must sign in to see if this title is available for request.
Pub Date 22 Apr 2021 | Archive Date 30 Apr 2021

Talking about this book? Use #AMirrorforMonkeys #NetGalley. More hashtag tips!


By the winner of the Walter Scott Prize for The Ten Thousand Things

Beneath the floorboards of a ruined house, an 18th-century memoir is discovered. It reveals the life story of William Congreve, the acclaimed English playwright. The lost manuscript is penned by his faithful servant, Jeremy, who tells how they lived together through fierce political division and triumphal nationalism in that era of war with France, the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution.

Upon his death a monument in Stowe is erected to honour Mr Congreve. Atop a slender pyramid sits a monkey peering into a mirror, a court wit seeing reflected the ironies of polite society folding in on itself as Whigs and Tories feud with scant ground for compromise.

Through the prisms of memory and art, award-winning author John Spurling reimagines this tumultuous period and brings to life historical figures Dryden, Vanbrugh, Swift, Pope and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu as never before. 

By the winner of the Walter Scott Prize for The Ten Thousand Things

Beneath the floorboards of a ruined house, an 18th-century memoir is discovered. It reveals the life story of William Congreve, the...

Advance Praise

All in all, the novel struck me as elegant and playful, a tonic for these trouble times.' Andrew Taylor, No.1 Sunday Times bestselling author of The Ashes of London

‘A heartfelt memorial to the extraordinary William Congreve and to those who loved him. Spurling provides an imaginative way into a wonderful period for readers who prefer their historical tea mixed with the milk of fiction.’ Ophelia Field, Author of The Kit-Cat Club, and The Favourite  

‘This cleverly constructed portrait of a great playwright and good man starts with the turbulent politics of the Restoration period and ends with a timeless love. As erudite and entertaining as Congreve himself.’ Carole Angier, biographer of Jean Rhys and Primo Levi

All in all, the novel struck me as elegant and playful, a tonic for these trouble times.' Andrew Taylor, No.1 Sunday Times bestselling author of The Ashes of London

‘A heartfelt memorial to the...

Available Editions

EDITION Hardcover
ISBN 9780715653623
PRICE £16.99 (GBP)


Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (EPUB)
Send To Kindle (MOBI)
Download (EPUB)

Average rating from 18 members

Featured Reviews

A tribute to William Congreve which describes his life, and the historical context that he moved in. His first real instructions on hiring Jeremy were clear, do not give false and flattering praise. Aside from the instructions to fetch his things of course, I am talking about the important instructions, not trivia, because it reveals the character of the man. I enjoyed the book immensely. Thank you to netgalley and the publishers for giving me an advance copy of this book.

Was this review helpful?

The biography of the English playwright and poet William Congreve as told by his faithful manservant and friend Jeremy, is at the centre of John Spurling's latest literary gift A mirror for monkeys, a delightful novel that will take the reader through a magnificent tapestry of English cultural, historical, intellectual and political life from the premises of the Glorious Revolution to the beginning of George II's reign. Teeming with a cast of unforgettable characters and full of humor and gossip, this delightful fictional romp is also a stunning portrait of a nation on the brink of greatness. An unexpected surprise to be enjoyed without any moderation! Many thanks to Netgalley and Duckworth for the opportunity to read this wonderful novel prior to its release date

Was this review helpful?

An interesting, well researched and well written historical fiction by a new to me author. it helped me to discover William Congreve and I loved the style of writing and the well plotted story. I will surely read other books by this author, this one is highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine

Was this review helpful?

This book is historical fiction at its best. A charming fictionalised account of William Congreve's life and works, taking in the Restoration and the complex political manoeuvring. I read ( and thoroughly enjoyed) Margarette Lincoln's London and the Seventeenth Century just last month, and this book picks up where that ends. England was going through an uneasy period- the last century had seen the execution of a king, multiple riots over religion, a Military dictatorship under Cromwell, the strengthening of Parliamentary democracy, the Restoration, the Glorious Revolution, and further uncertainty about the direction the country was going to take. Queen Anne seemed to favour her Catholic-leaning exiled brother's family, instead of the Hanoverian relations favoured by the Parliament, with the further prospect of civil war. Spurling explores this time, and the main players, through a lovely narrative device- the country estate of Stowe, with its many monuments commemorating British worthies, commissioned by Lord Cobham, with his Whig leanings. Each chapter starts with a particular feature of Stowe, and traces events through that. Choosing Congreve as the linking thread is clearly a wise decision, apart from being an important member of the Kit-Cat Club that a lot of influential men belonged to, his satires were at the centre of policy decisions on censorship and artistic freedoms. His works are placed in the proper context of their times, and even if you've never been interested in his plays, by the end of the book you definitely are. The narrator of the book is Congreve's....Chief of Staff, such as he is, given that he helps him with his translations, and runs his household for him. The book mentions intelligent, witty manservants being a feature of all of Congreve's plays, and I thought that might be an inspiration for Jeeves, but that's also apparently a feature of Ancient Greek comedy. Jeeves has classical roots then! If you're a fan of the movie The Favourite, this book is recommended reading. The main characters play important parts here as well, and in a far more significant way. The machinations of Sarah Churchill had far more profound political implications for the country, something not adequately emphasised in the movie. The book completely transports you to a very chaotic historical period, and right now, with the present times being so distressing, you really couldn't ask for more!

Was this review helpful?

*A big thank-you to John Spurling, Duckworth Books, and NetGalley for arc in exchange for my honest review.* A most entertaining read covering the life of William Congreve, as told by his manservant Jeremy. Historical fiction at its best: superby presented life of William, and the political and social backgrounds of his times, between the Glorious Revolution and the second king of the Hanoverian dynasty. Book is filled with big names of those days, wit, a little humour and observations on the times and Congreve who was one of the authors whose works I was expected to read but who as a person did not mean much to me. This has changed thanks to this unexpected gem of a novel.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to NetGalley and Duckworth for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. This is a really lovely book about a a fascinating central character, the playwright William Congreve as seen through the lens of his manservant Jeremy (being featured in Congreve's work as such). It details the life and character of Congreve. Featuring a charming cast of the bright lights of the time, including a young Voltaire, Alexander Pope and the Duchess of Marlborough. Leading the reader through the complex political and religious upheaval of the 17th and 18th centuries in both England and Ireland, John Spurling conveys information with wit and a side of gossip. Thoroughly recommend this book for lovers of historical fiction, the Favourite and the Gin Lane Gazette!

Was this review helpful?

This book is a fictionalized account of William Congreve. I found that it was really well researched, well written and engaging. I'd definitely read again from the author. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC.

Was this review helpful?

In the grounds of Stowe House stands a monument to William Congreve, playwright and poet, and in a derelict house in London a latin manuscript is found purporting to be a biography of Congreve. In his tale Jeremy Fetch tells the life of his master through forty years of British history. Here famous characters come and go within the narrative of a talented yet impecunious and somewhat selfish writer. The device of using a fictionalised biography works well here as it enables some licence with the facts and enough space for embellishment of events. However this is also a thoroughly entertaining romp through Restoration Britain populated by individuals known to history but with a slant on actuality that really works. I felt that the motif of using the follies in the grounds of Stowe to link events in the narrative was excellent. Spurling has a light hand with his writing which means that it seems insubstantial, as a reader I shot through this book in a couple fo hours, yet is actually very learned.

Was this review helpful?

Readers who liked this book also liked: