2009 Book Reviews
- ‘I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself.’ (Letter written by Cassandra Austen to her neice Fanny Knight on 18 July 1817 after the death of her sister Jane Austen)
I did enjoy this novel and as I said it has sparked my interest in Jane Austen even more. I think anyone can enjoy this book. You don’t have to be a diehard Jane Austen fan to want to read it or enjoy it. The way Jill Pitkeathley has written this historical fiction novel invites all readers to enjoy it.
I also participated in a noontime chat on this novel this past week with J.Kaye from J.Kaye’s Book Blog and you can see her thoughts here, here and here and my thoughts here, here, and here. I think this novel would really make a good book club pick because even aside from the curiousty surrounding Jane Austen’s life there is also the topics of life for women in the 1800’s and all that entailed.
As most who are fascinated with the time period of Henry VIII know, Catherine Howard, who this novel is based on, did not come to a good end. Yet, the author weaved such a good tale around the history of this time that I was completely drawn into the world of Catherine Howard and the Tudor Court was brought to life once again. I really enjoy reading of the parties, balls, and the gowns-one of my favorite things to read about.
Henry VIII had six wives in his lifetime, Catherine Howard was number five. In this time period the point to any existence was how much power you had, how close to the King you could get no matter what you had to sacrifice as a family. The Howards, after Anne Boleyn’s beheading, were having financial difficulties and needed another pretty young face to catch the King’s attention. That pretty girl happened to be fifteen year old Catherine. The story is very well told from Catherine’s point of view and we get a feel of what the Tudor Court and all the responsibility of being a Queen would be like for such a young girl.
I’ve never read a lot on Catherine so this novel really drew me into the story. Many thought she was just a silly girl wanting more pretty things, not to mention she did not have a clean past as a girl marrying the King should. Yet we need to remember she was fifteen. This is still a child. Of course she was silly and romantic and wanted more pretty gowns and jewels. She didn’t have the maturity to be a proper wife; at that age she didn’t have any idea what to do. Catherine was following her family’s wishes as most young girls of that time had no choice but to do. Her family wanted her in the King’s way to be noticed and all of the family worked towards that goal. At the time of Catherine marrying King Henry VIII he was already an old man. Catherine was not in love with him and was taken with another young man at court and it didn’t take long before she was swayed in that direction. She had a taste of love-however any talk of betraying the King is treason.
Catherine’s past is finally revealed to the King along with her current pastimes and this does not bode well for her. He is angry of course and has her confined to her rooms. It has not helped that in the time they were married that Catherine was unable to produce an heir; that may have saved her. Along the way she is willing to risk her life and her family to find a way to become pregnant, keeping in mind that she is always coached from the sidelines by her family. The King leaves and Catherine’s life is decided by The Privy Council with the King’s consent. The author has weaved this story so realistically that I was in tears by the end and very impressed with a young girl approaching death in a very dignified manner.
In any novel of historical fiction I read I am always horrified by the lives of the young girls of this time. Being forced into marriage at such young ages and paraded on dance floors like pieces of meat has always made me angry. Catherine, being a young girl, did as she was told. Many times during the novel she is at her witt’s end because she doesn’t know anymore what to do or what to think. At the end when she is pressured for answers she is distraught because she has always had someone there to tell her what to say and what to do. She never really had a chance to be her own person as I think it was for many women of that time. Towards the end of the novel there is a quote I’d like share:
- ‘All of my life I felt as if I belonged to someone else: my father’s pretty daughter, my grandmother’s charge. Anne Boleyn’s cousin, betrothed to Francis, beloved of Thomas, then wife to King Henry. I think back now to when I was truly myself, and I can see it in my mind: I’m a child, lying in the grass and singing, the face of a kitten moving close and sniffing the tip of my nose. I had nothing then, or I thought I had nothing, but really I had everything: I had myself. That was truly me, on my own and complete. It makes me smile, just to think of it.’ (pg. 288 from an advance, uncorrected copy-may be different in published copy)
Catherine was fifteen years old when she was beheaded. A girl who never had a chance to become a woman. This novel gives us some insight into how things may have come about for her. It is written with great style and the story keeps moving forward at a good pace. I would recommend it for young adults 14 years and up and it is certainly suitable for an adult audience.
Check out Melissa’s wonderful review here at Melissa’s Bookshelf.
- ‘Aromas that started calling to her’…’Some smells were sharp, an olfactory clatter of heels across a hardwood floor. Others felt like the warmth in the air at the far end of summer’.
- Making a white sauce…’and Lillian looked at the sauce, an untouched snowfield, its smell the feeling of quiet at the end of an illness, when the world is starting to feel gentle and welcoming once again’.
- ‘The more she cooked, the more she began to view spices as carriers of the emotions and memories of the places they were originally from and all those they had traveled through over the years’.
There’s so many more like that, all throughout the book. The last quote for me rings so true. How many times do you walk in a room or somewhere else and smell that certain spice and then relive the memories it brings back. As I said for me this book was beautiful. I loved the descriptions of food and could almost smell the aromas drifting from the pages.
I thorougly enjoyed this novel and would love to thank Erica for sending it to me. I was lucky enough to receive the last copy she had and for that I’m grateful. I don’t do this often, but Erica’s is one book I’m going to order in hardcover to keep on my shelves and go back to for a comfort read because that’s what this book felt like to me-comfort. You can visit Erica’s website here and you can buy her book in Canada here and in the US here.