Friday, November 27, 2015

The Heretic's Wife by Brenda Rickman Vantrease


Rating: WORTHY!

Having got through and enjoyed Alison Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII not long ago, this one sounded like it might be entertaining. The version I listened to was the audio book read by Davina Porter. She did an acceptable job.

Set at the time when Henry 8 was trying to talk the Pope into letting him marry Anne Boleyn (which turned into a disaster for both, but did spawn Elizabeth 1), this novel focuses on booksellers who are purveying the English translation of the Bible, something which the idiot Pope had declared illegal. They took their censorship seriously back then, and death awaited anyone who flouted the Catholic global dictatorship.

Unfortunately, this novel moved way too slowly for me, and dithered and dallied when I wanted to get on with the story. There is no logical or rational reason why historical fiction should routinely run to four, five, six, seven, eight hundred pages! What it is which drives authors to do this, I think, is that they hate to waste all the research they did and consequently feel like they have to cram it in somewhere. Worse than this, they feel they have to draft-in every historical person they can think of from the period, which is nothing more than tediously pretentious name-dropping and turns me right off a novel. It's like a kid's time travel movie where they run into famous people like Benjamin Franklin (it's always Franklin isn't it?!). It's celebrity worshiping gibberish and it simply doesn't work.

I've raised this issue before of book titles which take the form "The _______'s Daughter" or "The _______'s Wife." On the one hand, I agree that they're quite provocative titles, carrying as they do a suggestion of rebellion or at least misbehavior. On the other hand they seem to me to be insulting titles, implying as they do that the woman in question is no more than a possession of the man. I've reviewed about four such novels prior to this one, and they were batting a .500. Now the balance is tipped negatively and I think I am no longer inclined to pick up any more such titles, lackluster as they've been!

What finally killed this particular one for me was the (relatively) modern language and idiom. It kept kicking me out of the story. I think it would have been tedious to have read this in the same English which Shakespeare knew, or in which the King James Bible was written, but there had to be a happier compromise than this one. In the end, I couldn't get into it and I can't recommend it based on the portion I covered.


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