Sunday, 20 April 2008
The Traitor's Wife
The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham.
This book was on my "to be read" (TBR) pile for a long time. I bought it a while ago after seeing so many good reviews about it from reviewers that I have similar tastes too. I hadn't read anything about the Edward II period before, and I think this is why I waited for so long to read it. I have now discovered a whole new period to be interested in! I have such admiration for Susan in choosing to write about such a complex time in English history. Family connections and politics were so interwoven and complex. But Susan breathes life into the time through the eyes of Eleanor Despenser, the wife of Hugh Despenser, a favourite (an intimate favourite at that) of Edward II. Eleanor would be a character that would flit about the edges of most books about the period, but stepping forward into the limelight in this book gives an interesting perspective. She made me feel more intimately involved in the story. She is also someone that is easy to relate to in our times. She was a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, not to mention the niece of the King. All these facets of her life make it easy to step into her shoes, and see things through her eyes.
The period is clearly well understood by the author, and I admire the way she has presented a story that was so obviously well researched. There are a lot of insightful details in the narrative, about the way that the noble people lived in the time, and the values they had in regards to their families, their religion and their political views. It shows great depth of knowledge, and it makes me think what a shocking time authors must have in planning and editing their books! In no way am I saying that this book was too long, or too detailed or anything like that. But it made me think that it must be very hard to decided where in time to start and finish, and out of all the details that have been gleaned from research, which to include and which must relucantly be left out. I guess I am thinking about it from the point of view of someone who dreams of maybe oneday writing a historical fiction novel myself, and thinking of how to approach choosing a period, and characters and the like. Reading this book really made me think about the craft of writing, because it was so well handled.
I really like the approach of having the central character as someone almost a step removed from the action so to speak. Like I said earlier, Eleanor may have made a brief mention in other works of the time. But making her story is interesting on its own. She was the treasured niece of the King, the sister in law of his first favorite, and her husband went on to become the second favorite. With the fall of the Despenser family, Eleanor's life takes a dramatic change, and we get to see the strength of character that Eleanor must of had. To endure such a change in life, to go from noblewoman, to a prisoner in the Tower of London, with children to care and provide for, a son imprisoned elsewhere, and then her subsequent marital woes, was really a story that was begging to be told. I hope that many more authors will find characters and story such as these lurking in the shadows of time, pick them up, dust them off, and buff them up to shine such as Eleanor does at the hands of Susan.