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The Girl in the Mirror [Paperback]

Sarah Gristwood
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Paperback, 9 Jun 2011 --  

Book Description

9 Jun 2011

‘Entrancing, compelling, and beautifully written…This is the historical novel as literary fiction – and damned good literary fiction at that.’ Alison Weir

Jeanne, a young French exile orphaned by the wars of religion on the continent, is brought to London as a young girl disguised as a boy. Growing up, the disguise has not been shed and she finds a living as a clerk, ending up in the household of Robert Cecil. As she witnesses the intrigues and plots swirling round the court of Elizabeth I in the last days of Gloriana’s reign, she finds herself sucked into the orbit of the dashing and ambitious young favourite, the Earl of Essex. The queen draws near to the end of her life, with no heir to follow, and the stakes are high.

As Essex hurtles towards self-destruction, Jeanne finds her loyalties, her disguise and her emotions under threat – in a political climate where the least mistake can attract dire penalties.

This is a beautifully written and evocative novel, rich with the details of life and politics of Elizabeth I’s court. Jeanne’s struggle for survival and love is interwoven with her passionate pull towards the gardens she documents, a lovely and seductive backdrop to the novel.

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The Girl in the Mirror + Elizabeth & Leicester + Arbella: England's Lost Queen
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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Collins; 1st Edition edition (9 Jun 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007379048
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007379040
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 487,972 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sarah Gristwood is the author of a number of books including the Sunday Times best-seller Arbella: England's Lost Queen, Elizabeth and Leicester and the novel The Girl in the Mirror. She was born in Kent and read English at St Anne's College, Oxford University. She is married to film critic Derek Malcolm and lives in London and Kent.

Product Description


'Entrancing, compelling, and beautifully written. The Girl in the Mirror is a fabulous novel, bursting with integrity and authenticity, vividly evoking the court of Elizabeth I, with wonderful period detail. I feel I know the characters, and was mesmerised by their story. This is the historical novel as literary fiction - and damned good literary fiction at that.' Alison Weir, Sunday Times Top Ten bestselling author of The Captive Queen

Praise for ‘Elizabeth and Leicester’

‘This has to be the last word on that much-discussed (then and now) relationship between the Virgin Queen and her favourite, Robert Dudley…It’s gripping’ Guardian

About the Author

Sarah Gristwood is author of ‘Arbella’ (Transworld £20 hardback Feb. 2003, £9.99 paperback Feb. 2004) and ‘Elizabeth and Leicester’ (Transworld £20 hardback Feb. 2007, £8.99 paperback Feb. 2008). This is her first novel.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Girl in the Mirror 10 May 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Sarah Gristwood is following a popular tradition of historians turning to writing fiction and this, her first novel, is a great success. Her previous biographies are both about the Elizabethan era, Arbella: England's Lost Queen and Elizabeth & Leicester and her historical novel is set in the same period.

Jeanne is only five years old when she leaves the Low Countries, fleeing religious persecution. Her mother entrusts her to a man called Jacob and, when she is murdered, he is unwillingly left to bring her up. On the way to England he tries, unsuccessfully, to ask others to look after her - despairing at how he can care for a five year old girl. When nobody is willing to take her though, he keeps her and brings her to London with him. Jacob is a man who knows plants and gardens - they are his lifes work and he teaches Jeanne everything he knows, dressing her as a boy and simply finding a young apprentice easier to deal with in his mind than a young woman.

When Jacob dies, Jeanne keeps the disguise and manages to find work with Lord Robert Cecil. It is nearing the end of Elizabeth I's reign and the monarch is under pressure to name her successor. When the Queens favourite, the ambitious Earl of Essex (Robert Dudley's stepson), falls out with the Queen, Jeanne (or Jan as she is known) is drawn into the web surrounding him. She is attracted to him, but also feels loyalty to Lord Cecil. Then she meets an old friend, the actor Martin Slaughter. All three men either guess or know her secret, but life is difficult for a woman alone and Jeanne is desperate to keep her post in Lord Cecil's household.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A half-hearted and unconvincing slog 2 Dec 2011
By Bookwoman TOP 1000 REVIEWER
If, like me, you've read a lot of historical novels over the years, then the device used in this one will be very familiar: you invent a fictional character, preferably some sort of outsider (but with connections), and drop them into the past among actual historical characters just as something important is brewing. History dictates the big events, but the further back you go the fewer the known facts, so you can do what you like with the story and characters (real as well as fictional), which is what makes it it interesting.
Here we are with the Tudors yet again: I wonder if anyone will ever dare to start the ball rolling with a novel about Queen Anne, for instance, just for a change? Anyway, this time it's the dying days of Elizabeth's reign and Essex's rebellion.
Some people have given this book five stars, but I'm afraid I found the story very dull, and hampered by her decision to go down the first person narrative route. All three narrators - the fictional Jeanne, a Dutch Protestant refugee working for Robert Cecil, Cecil himself, and Katherine, Lady Howard, the Queen's First Lady of the Bedchamber - enjoy giving us page after page of lengthy opinions, thoughts and descriptions, all monologue and very little dialogue. Unless the characters are interesting (and these aren't, particularly) then this makes for a very stodgy read, and by the end I was longing to see and hear things for myself, first hand. At times this felt like ploughing through a rambling and repetitive journal or letter.
And surely the idea that a girl could get away with pretending to be a boy for so long in a large Tudor household, where privacy was unknown, was ludicrous? That pretty much jinxed the whole thing for me right from the start.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dull, dull, dull 20 July 2011
This is an immensely tedious book, and the main character is infuriatingly passive. I'm in no doubt that the author knows her history, but unfortunately she knows nothing about constructing an entertaining narrative or portraying appealing characters. I'm only giving it two stars as it does contain some nice, vivid descriptions of various gardens.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Shakespearean-style deception. 10 Sep 2012
I'm in two minds about 'The Girl in the Mirror' - a conundrum as I'm usually pretty quick to make up my mind about a book.

The premise is good and the beginning promises a tale of a life lived out in late sixteenth-century Europe, with the inherent risks, drama and religious uncertainty of the period all playing a part.

The first half of the book had me riveted. Jeanne's tale was interesting and well-written; although critics have brought up the implausibility of Jeanne's story, it is fiction after all and I was enjoying Jeanne's deception.

My interest started to wane about half way through as Jeanne's involvement with the Earl of Essex, and his reciprocal interest in her, became increasingly ludicrous. Around the same time, the backdrop of horticulture disappeared almost entirely from the novel, which was a disappointment; added to which I was beginning to feel that the story of Jeanne's deception and the theme of Martin and the players (actors) as spies, two interesting threads, weren't being developed to their full potential and the political detail was becoming a bit repetitive.

The to-ing and fro-ing between Queen Elizabeth I and Essex, and between Essex and Cecil became a little confused, even though I have a reasonable understanding of Tudor history. Perhaps a reader deeply entrenched in sixteenth century history would have read this more easily, but personally I would have got on with it better if it had been written more concisely.

That said, I enjoyed the read overall and found the ending made up for some of the waywardness in the latter half of the novel. I'd be interested to read more historical fiction from Sarah Gristwood as her sense of the period is clearly extremely good, and I hope this is the first of many historical novels to come.
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