Writing in this book blog has made me more aware of my reading style. I find that I usually have some pre-formed idea of how any particular book will read, or how various parts will play out. And often I find that these expectations are not met, and for better or worse, my experience of the book as a whole is skewed.
Because Alison Weir is a well known historian who primarily writes biographical accounts, I was expecting her prose to be more syrupy and detailed. Instead she had a much more basic and brisk writing style; I would say that, aside from some mature content, a great audience for this novel would be mid-junior high to mid-high school. (As I was writing that, I wondered after the actual reading level of the novel, so I decided to Determine the Reading Level of the novel…it clocked in at 10th grade, +/- 1.5 grade levels, which surprised me).
Anyways, I’ve always been a bit of a reading snob, and when the book didn’t seem to challenge linguistically, I nearly put it away in disappointment. But I’m really glad that I stuck it out. The novel was a great read and provided a very interesting perspective of young life of Lady Elizabeth Tudor. The novel dealt with the period of time between Anne Bolyen’s execution and Elizabeth’s coronation, with varying perspectives of the events offered by each of the major characters.
The most challenging aspect of the novel was its perspective. Not only did Weir use 3rd person omniscient, in which the thoughts of all characters are known, but she also applied it in atypical ways. The thoughts and view points rapidly transitioned between characters instead of being separated via chapter breaks. Although I didn’t at first notice these transitions, I wouldn’t call the transfer between characters seamless. Rather, the transitions happened so quickly, and seemingly without warning, that sometimes I would only realize the viewpoint had changed (from, say, Henry VIII to Elizabeth) based on the gender of pronouns in the sentence.
For example, Lady Mary is thinking about Anne Boleyn as Elizabeth plays with a doll. The reader becomes privvy to Elizabeth’s thoughts, however the jump to her thoughts is so rapid you wonder why Lady Mary is pondering which outfit to put on the doll next. So yes, slightly jarring, but I did get more accustomed to the shifts as the novel wore on.
One of my favorite things about reading historical fiction is that the authors always give themselves away. From Weir’s treatment of Henry VIII, it is obvious that she believes Henry truly did love Anne Boleyn. Her argument seems to be that, thinking Anne is a political threat, Henry’s advisor, Cromwell, drummed up the charges of adultery and incest against her. It is perhaps the most romantic and sympathetic treatment of Henry VIII that I have seen, and quite frankly, it was refreshing not to think of Henry as the monster history has portrayed him to be.
In fact, her treatment of Henry VIII has made The Lady in the Tower (also by Weir) a possible next read for me, and I rarely read non-fiction. Overall, I enjoyed the novel as a whole, and will probably read Weir’s fictional account of Lady Jane Grey. I would recommend this book for any Tudor history enthusiast.
Do you ever go into a book with certain expectations, only to have those expectations smashed in the first few pages? How do these unmet expectations affect your impression of the book you are reading and your overall reading experience?
I read this book for the The Tudor Book Challenge.