I like Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction a lot. I couldn’t put The White Queen down. Most of what I know about Tudor history I have learned from Philippa Gregory’s meticulously researched books about said Tudors.
Meaty books, they are, full of action and intrigue. Gregory has a gift for supposing how the vital (and numerous) engagements between historical personages might have played out. She provides motivation where sometimes that is invisible after the dry works of history I was used to as a child at school have been laid over the actual activities of those long-ago people.
But this. Oh, my.
It treats of the three Grey sisters, Jane, Katherine and Mary. Edward VI (being a sickly teenager) wanted to avoid the succession of his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth. Who else was high in the line of succession? The Grey sisters. Their father and their mother had wanted this for one (or more) of their brood all the girls’ lives. The girls had been raised for it, and provided with suitable husbands to enable it. It was a positive nest of ambition. And now Edward was fading fast …
But in this case the combination of (aarrghh!) 500 odd pages related in the historical present (which I loathe) and the dreary personality Gregory has given to Jane Grey has meant that I have tried this book twice, and failed to get further than page 50 either time.
Even if I skip ahead (which I also tried) to the later sections on each of the other sisters, the historical present, on and on, treating then as if the narrator were living through one, endless, day of now, defeats me.
If you don’t have a fatal antipathy to reading about then as if it was now, then give this a go. But even then I would counsel starting with a sister other than the po-faced Jane. Unfortunately, although the novel is cut up into three sections, one per sister, there is no contents list to show where these begin, flick through until Katherine appears. But the really fun sister is Mary.
For my money, Leanda de Lisle does the Grey sisters better in The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey.
And what is this? In the blurb at the back of The Last Tudor for Gregory’s The Taming of the Queen about Kateryn Parr (aka Catherine or Katherine), Henry VIII’s final wife I read, “…Henry’s dangerous gaze turns on [Kateryn]. The traditional church men and rivals for power accuse her of heresy – the punishment is death by fire and the king’s name is on the warrant…”
Now, we all know the old saw about Henry VIII’s wives: divorced beheaded died: divorced beheaded survived. Parr, Henry’s last queen, is the survivor. So what’s going on here? (Perhaps it isn’t such a wizard wheeze after all to treat Gregory’s historical novels as actual history …?)
However, I am a sucker for those grasping, murderous Tudors conjured by Gregory. So my finger hovers over the ‘sample for Kindle’ button. And I see I already have this somewhere on my Kindle. All I have to do now is find it. 🙂
If you hear a loud groan from the direction of the South coast of Britain in the next week or so, it is only me, discovering another 500 or so pages written in the historical present.
[Wanders off, muttering, “Why? Why? Why?”]