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for what it is, it's good
on 12 January 2011
I'm not going to say I expected or hoped for a sensible novel on slavery, because I've read enough Philippa Gregory novels to know that's not her thing. Gregory prefers forbidden passions and crushing sorrow and harsh times. This, although no less absorbing than any other of her novels, does of course focus on a love affair (or at least, mainly the leading up to it) between a privileged but unhappy woman and an oppressed African slave. One has to suspend belief more than a little, but then what does one expect? I didn't mind too much.
It would have been brilliant if Gregory had taken this further. I wish she had done away with the sticky imagery and somersaulting emotions, and produced a raw piece of fiction. I believe it would have been better had Francis and Mehuru's love for one another been not the gooey sort of love that the historical fiction genre spews, but rather a more angry, uncertain, unconsummated love. Not falling into a bed scattered with petals (I tell you, it's true.)
But I won't slate Gregory, no I shan't. She was brave to take on a topic like this, and incorporate it into one of her fizzling romances. And she did well, I don't think there is any doubt, in painting Francis' husband, a slave-owner and profiteer of the 'respectable' trade of the title, not as a wicked man but as a foolish one, a product of his time, of the same misguided and shuttered politics many shared. As well as this, it was a grand idea to contrast Francis' power over Mehuru, with men's had power over women in the 18th century.