18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Oh dear. I hate to write a bad review of a book but I really struggled to get to the end of this book. I'm going to do my best to be balanced. On the plus side the author has managed to string together a reasonable story. On the down side - where to begin? The author has clearly done some research but she seems to be so pleased with this newfound knowledge that she forces it into the mouths of her characters in a way that jars - particularly in reference to the plays - lines from which she uses in the mouth of the main character in such a clumsy way I nearly threw the book in the bin. The entire narrative arc is ridiculously pat - the meetings and events that occur throughout (I won't detail them - I don't want to spoil it for you if this is your cup of tea) are far fetched in the extreme. I won't go on any more - in my opinion this is utterly awful writing - if you enjoy historical fiction / romance I would point you to Anya Seaton or even Jean Plaidy rather than this tripe. Sorry.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Never mind "Romeo and the Pirate's Daughter" - this is "Will Shakespeare and the Italian tightrope dancer's daughter" - the story of Will and Ann (not Hathaway) his exotic dark lady.
Febrile nonsense - Will and Ann as kids making up rhyming couplets as they swing about the country on his big horse. Will as hero rescuing Ann from attempted rape. "My hero" she thinks. "I can't take much more of this" I think.
Ann, a modern woman in a "Tudor" world, moves easily between the classes, throwing on boy's clothing and encouraging her tussie-mussie selling mates to do so as well so they can pop over to Southwark and flog a few cushions to Henshawe, rub shoulders with Kit Marlowe and then another day live it up with the Earl of Southampton, completely at ease in his milieu.
Show - don't tell - "I am related through my mother to the Ardens who own a big park, seventeen miles away". "This was just like the situation in that play what Will wrote last year - "Much Ado" I think it was called".
Awful writing, unconvincing plot which basically shoves Ann as the unseen hand into every event we know of in Shakespeare's adult life, unengaging protagonists. Give it a miss.
If you want a good book about William Shakespeare, Will Will is at least well written
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I have had this novel waiting to be read and reviewed for the Vine programme for a long time now. A few times, I have picked it up, began reading it, only to then put it to one side again. This, for me, is quite rare. Once I finish a book, I take some time to choose the next one I am going to fall into, and that choice will depend on what I have read before, what I am in the mood for. But, with SHAKESPEARE'S MISTRESS, I found myself finding it difficult to commit.
Researching a novel, especially a historical one is essential, but there is a fine line between good research and flat writing. I personally feel that SHAKESPEARE'S MISTRESS came across a little flat for me. As another reviewer has said, the quotes from Shakespeare's works seem a little strained here, rather than flowing naturally. Ultimately, the plot was not convincing enough, for me, to keep me reading to the end.
Unfortunately, this is not a book I would recommend.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Being a fan of all things Shakespearean, I thought this might be a diverting read with an interesting new twist on the story of his life.
Whilst it is a potentially interesting premise (that the dark lady of the sonnets was really Shakespeare's first love - the woman he married just before he married Miss Hathaway), the quality of the writing does not deliver for me. There is a very clear attempt to use the narrative voice to create a sense of period - and it does not really capture the essence of the language of the time. It all feels slightly contrived and arch.
This is further exacerbated with the dropping in of phrases from the Complete Works - this really jarred with me and made it hard to take the writing seriously.
If you don't take it too seriously, I guess this could be a diverting piece of fluff. If you have any interest in Shakespeare, his life and works, I suspect you really will find it just a bit too lightweight. I know it is not a piece of scholarly writing but the prose does not carry enough weight to do justice to what had the potential to be an interesting piece of speculative history.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I had such high hopes for this novel. It's a book that I've really wanted to read given that I am interested in both Shakespeare and Elizabethan times. That's why it pains me to say that to be honest, it was a bit of a let down and a story that I struggled to finish.
I do commend the author for writing this novel and weaving a believable scenario out of something that has long been pure speculation: the notion that prior to his marriage to Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare married another Anne-Anne Whatley and the two of them had a long standing relationship until his death. This novel is told from Anne Whatley's viewpoint, her supposed `memoirs' of her time with William Shakespeare and how she was ultimately his muse and the real love of his life during his writing career.
The story has its high points admittedly: I found myself really enjoying certain aspects of the narrative including the evocative descriptions of both London and Stratford of the time- sights, sounds and smells become ingrained in the mind of the reader. I also found the depictions of the theatres and the theatre lifestyle itself fascinating. However, themes I would have liked to have read a lot more of seemed a bit `glossed over' in comparison. The Black Death for example, a key time in Elizabethan history and something that had a disastrous impact on London and its citizens surely warranted more than a mere couple of chapters? Similarly, the fire in The Globe deserved more than being stuffed in the end of a chapter.
The low points however overrode this story more than what they should have done for me; I found the characters a bit wishy-washy and to be honest, Shakespeare is portrayed to be a very weak man and I didn't like him or Anne very much. Anne's only saving grace is her sharp tongue, which again is let down by her complete doormat attitude when dealing with Will- she lets him walk all over her. She started off really feisty and weakened considerably towards the end of the book. Also- I found myself visibly cringing at the amount of times quotes from Shakespeare plays were dropped into every day speech and Anne and Will's conversations- it became very banal towards the end.
I would say that if you are looking to read this, take everything with a pinch of salt. It's not a bad read as far as historical fiction goes, just nowhere near as good as it could have been and everything is just far too murky to take it really seriously.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This novel explores the well-worn trail of hunters for the identity of the Dark Lady of the Sonnets - and in the process throws up another suggestion about the mysterious "Mr W.H."
Centred around the mystery of two official entries in the Worcester register, where on consecutive days marriage bonds are issued to "Anne Whateley/Wm Shaxpere" and "William Shagspere/Anne Hathaway", the novel takes the reader back to Elizabethan England, and from the perspective of the mysterious Anne Whateley paints a vivid picture of a world in literary and political turmoil.
Karen Harper commands a tight writing style and this is a pacey narrative. The sometimes too heavily embedded references to Shakespeare's plays and poems can grate a little, as can the narrative of Anne when she is given cod Shakespearean dialect forms - but these are minor issues, and most obvious in the early part of the story.
Taken for what it is, a good read placed in the context of a vibrant and important time both for the literary world and the making of our nation, this novel does not disappoint: recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Not sure what I can add to the other reviews on the page now. Just the sort of thing for the kinds of people who like this sort of thing. Which isn't necessarily me.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
The conceit of "Shakespeare's Mistress" is that Shakespeare was married to Anne Whateley the day before he was married to Anne Hathaway, and Anne W remained the love of his life, with an affair (if you can have an affair with your "wife") continued in London where the same Anne was also the famed "dark lady" of his sonnets. There is some basis for this theory in that the parish records do show a mysterious entry into the register for just such a contract the day before the Hathaway marriage but although the author claims this is "faction", it's very much at the fiction end of that scale and is really a "what if?" piece.
It starts off reasonably well - well it starts off on a bad foot in fact because the book is written as a first person narrative by Anne W and she displays an idiosyncratic misunderstanding of the term "comedy" when related to Elizabethan drama in the prologue, but putting that aside, the early part in Stratford is entertaining enough in a sort of Tudor romance kind of way. A couple of allusions are rather laid on with a trowel, like the death of a mutual friend in what is clearly the forerunner to the Ophelia drowning in Hamlet scene, although also idiosyncratically it owes more to the Millais painting than the play itself, but it sweeps along in an enjoyable enough manner if you don't take it too seriously.
Then Anne W heads off to London and, rather like Anne H would have felt, I wished she hadn't. The book then starts down a long and slippery slope to ridicule. If that sounds a bit strong, then mayhap you're right. OK - now hopefully some of you have just gone "mayhap? Who uses that word?" That's part of the problem. Karen Harper does.
To my mind, if you are going to write historic fiction, you need to take some decisions before you set off about how you are going to handle language. I'm certainly not suggesting it has to be full of "foresooths" and "yea verilies". But you cannot mix and match like this. For the most part the text is all very modern and readable but Harper is obsessed with certain Elizabethan words and phrases - notably swearing in the form of God's teeth (or `s teeth) and variations thereof, and also the rather more understandable obsession with the word "tussie-mussies". To illustrate how ridiculous this gets, I need to get a bit pedantic for a bit. She has Kit Marlowe (contemporary of the Bard) say at one point "they know I'm an iconoclast - hell's teeth all playwrights are at heart". Kit Marlowe died in 1593. The first recorded use of the word "iconoclast" is 1641 and even then it didn't mean what we use it today to mean and how it is used here. If you use modern meanings then fine, but don't sprinkle arcane Elizabethan swear words after it - it looks (and is) ridiculous.
If that's a little too pedantic for you (and I'd understand if it was) then how about this. A quick school room quiz: in Romeo and Juliet what does the word "wherefore" mean in the context of "wherefore art thou Romeo?" Anyone? If you said "why" then collect a star. If you said "where" go and stand in the corner where you will not be alone. Already there is Karen Harper (who I hasten to add is a former teacher of Shakespeare and claims three decades of study of Elizabethan England) and, if this book is to be believed, also there is a certain William Shakespeare who she quotes using it in the meaning of "where"! Now, I confess to being something of a Bardoholic, but the meaning of "wherefore" in this context is not a little known fact and certainly something you would expect someone with three decades of study to know.
I could go on, but frankly once you suggest Shakespeare doesn't know the meaning of his own words, there's little point.
I won't get into the other factual problems and illogicalities which are too many to mention. Just one example - it is suggested that the reason the Bard had dark skinned women in his plays who liked to dress up as boys is a reflection of Anne W's colouring and penchant for dressing as boys to get out of scrapes when the glaringly obvious (though I acknowledge unprovable) explanation is that the boys he had to use as women weren't allowed on the stage is why he chose this colouring and got humour out of the dressing up stuff. The claim that this is a "what if" fiction rather than any claim to historical accuracy doesn't excuse this in my book.
The rest of the plot takes the few known things in the Bard's life and ensures that plucky little Anne W is plonked at the centre of everything. Shakespeare's son's death? Yup, Anne W told him about that. The building of the Globe theatre? Yeah, Anne W helped carry the wood. Shakespeare's daughter's marriage to Dr Hall - of course, Anne W introduced them. The Bard's patronage by Henry Wriothesley (to whom the sonnets were dedicated) - oh, Anne W introduced them, don't you know?
The book put me in mind of a reference I once saw for an employee that said "her staff follow her loyally, but more out of morbid curiosity than any sense of leadership". That's what kept me reading. As light Tudor romance goes, there is something of a narrative arc here - but it's Shakespeare's own life, not Anne W's and there's little in terms of sense of time or place (beyond the odd "tussie-mussie" or two). It's all Tudor London though rose-tinted glasses. The idea is intriguing but the execution is simply dreadful. I urge you to avoid this.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Karen Harper is at pains to establish her credentials. In this book and in interviews she refers to having built up "quite a Tudor library", to having made numerous trips to the British Isles, bringing back "many booklets, pamphlets and photos" of places visited. Anyone who reads Shakespeare's Mistress will not quarrel with her self-description as a "Tudormaniac."
The problem with this book, which is based upon some evidence that Shakespeare married twice, is that it overlays serious historical fiction with the author's other output of historical romance. The characters and their inter-relationships seem close to the latter while the claim to consideration as the former is hardly helped by the frequent use of phases such as "'Twas said ..." or "As I am told ..." in order to explain historical facts that the young Anne Whateley could not have known.
Then there is the Shakespeare relevance, which is laid on both subtly and with a trowel. A drowned girl is the obvious prompt for Will to create Hamlet's Ophelia, while the water Anne approaches is where "a willow grows aslant a brook." There is also the ever-present tightrope for writers of historical fiction: the use of period language. I have no evidence for saying that "Says who?" was not common Elizabethan usage but its reads uncomfortably like Marx Brothers dialogue.
A saving grace for Ms Harper may be the accidental timing of her novel's publication coinciding with the ridiculed appearance in our cinemas of Anonymous, Hollywood's version of another Shakespeare conspiracy theory. She herself would doubtless, and with justification, remark: as Will himself writes - Comparisons are odorous.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 4 April 2012
I tried so hard to get into this book, but for me it was just a non starter. I very very rarely give up on a book, but over half way through and I still struggled to see that the book was really going anywhere. The characters were washy, and although I didn't dislike them, I never really warmed to them, or felt any compassion for them
The pace of the book seemed very odd to me, and sometimes I felt like I had been stranded somewhere and I had no idea where I was. I just could not see where it was going. There would be days between me picking the book up. Usually if I get into a book I won't put it down, but I felt this book just dragging along. It just didn't engage me at all.