Maybe 3.5 stars. It's beautifully written and parts of it warrant 4.5 or 5 stars. But overall, after a gentle introduction and then a real pickup in na...moreMaybe 3.5 stars. It's beautifully written and parts of it warrant 4.5 or 5 stars. But overall, after a gentle introduction and then a real pickup in narrative drive that turns it for a few chapters into a gripping read, the pace flags again for too long towards the end.(less)
If I had the option, I'd give this 3.5 stars. Other reviews will tell you more what the book is about.
The subject was clearly a fascinating woman who h...moreIf I had the option, I'd give this 3.5 stars. Other reviews will tell you more what the book is about.
The subject was clearly a fascinating woman who had a colourful, dramatic and traumatic life that deserves being told. However, the books lacks a little focus: it can't seem to decide whether it's a biography of Caroline Norton or more directly aimed at explaining her political/legislative influence given her personal story. If the latter, certain aspects should have been brought more to the fore and tiny little details of her personal life and daily movements could have been edited out.
Either way, the title is a bit misleading. Firstly, it assumes she was guilty of criminal conversation (which the author seems to believe is the case, but cannot be proved). Secondly, the trial is only a small part of the book and it's more her treatment by her husband than the trial itself that is the trigger for her activism.
A book worth reading - just a little ill-focused and over-detailed in some aspects. (less)
I'm being generous in giving this three stars, but I've erred on the side of generosity given that - despite my many reservations with the book - I di...moreI'm being generous in giving this three stars, but I've erred on the side of generosity given that - despite my many reservations with the book - I did find large parts of it interesting and he covers ground that others often ignore.
So, provided the historically astute and critically alert reader approaches the book with caution, it is a potentially useful compilation and presentation of alleged and dispute marriages of English (and later British) royals.
What's good? Firstly, he gives at least equal space to discussing the often overlooked episodes of royal marriage history rather than go over the same old stories (Edward IV, Henry VIII etc.) and, even in covering well-trodden ground, often comes up with neglected - and, indeed, frequently over-inventive, theories.
Secondly, he makes at least an attempt to set his discussion of these histories against the contemporary legal and religious views and understanding of what constitutes a marriage, which was constantly evolving over the centuries examined.
What's not so good? Firstly, he makes little if any attempt to explain the social background to changing views of marriage and premarital or extramarital relations (e.g. why, at certain periods, it was perfectly acceptable for a king to have mistresses and why, at other times, it seems it was not; why was it so important for a king to have legitimate heirs).
Secondly, it's difficult to take as a serious historian an author who relies so heavily on secondary or tertiary sources (not only Wikipedia, but countless other websites, or simply quoting from other recently published books) and who, as a previous reviewer has pointed out, peppers his text so liberally with exclamation marks almost every time he says something he thinks is particularly amusing or noteworthy.
Finally, the thing that sticks in the craw the most (apart from some of his somewhat questionable theories and his insistence on referring to certain historical characters by surnames other than those they are most commonly known by) is his glaring partisanship, notably his obvious Jacobitism. He clearly believes a major dynastic injustice was done to the male heirs of James II, and he's entitled to his views, but he completely fails to maintain a neutral tone in anything regarding Catholicism.
Eg. "It is only with the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688 that the element of bigotry was introduced into the selection of English - or British - royal consorts."
He may well have a point, but it seems out of place in a book such as this, whose purported premise is not to peddle a particular agenda but to provide an overview of disputed and alleged royal marriages over several centuries.
More 4.5 stars than 5, but definitely more than 4!!
This won't be to everyone's taste but I found this novel of Caravaggio astonishingly inventive and...moreMore 4.5 stars than 5, but definitely more than 4!!
This won't be to everyone's taste but I found this novel of Caravaggio astonishingly inventive and beautiful - and, yes, unbearably sad. The psychological insight inherent in this portrayal - not just of the lead character, but of human life in general - feels movingly accurate and perceptively observed.
I read this novel very slowly. It wasn't a page turner. It was a page immerser. Read a page or two, be moved, be impressed, put it down and let it wash over you.
Someone said you won't enjoy this if you're not interested in art or you won't enjoy it if you can't be looking at the paintings whose stories it's telling at the same time. For me, although I probably will have a look at the paintings at some point, for now I choose not to - that would be bring out of the magic of the novel. It's a fiction - I love the paintings and the man as portrayed in the beautiful book I've just read. Looking at the real paintings would bring me back to the real world too soon!! (less)
Perhaps even 4.5 stars. Without wanting to spoil the story in any way, I will just comment on the general reading experience. It starts off very lightw...morePerhaps even 4.5 stars. Without wanting to spoil the story in any way, I will just comment on the general reading experience. It starts off very lightweight with some predictable and unsophisticated characterisations, and the seeming implausibilities in the plot start to pile up.
However, if you stick with it and go with the flow, you (or at least I) soon become gripped, involved, educated, entertained and, most of all, moved. What more could you want?
I've had enough of over-ambitious historical novels that fail to engage and fail to convince. This one won't be for everyone but it's one of the best reads of the year for me.(less)