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on 27 November 2003
"Wideacre" is the first book in the Wideacre trilogy, which follows the fortunes of the Lacey family throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The titles of the books foretell the obssessions of the protagonists: in this case, the obssession is the estate of Wideacre in the title.
Beatrice Lacey is desperately in love with the Wideacre estate which belongs to her family, but as a female in the eighteenth century, she cannot inherit. Despite the fact she knows the land better than anyone, she must watch the estate go to her brother Harry, who has no idea how to run it. The realisation of this prompts Beatrice to start a desperate quest to secure her place on the land, no matter what. At first, everything goes according to plan: she becomes almost a goddess on Wideacre (Beatrice means 'she who blesses'), gets married to a man who understands her and seems to have everything. But secrets from her past start to surface, and Beatrice becomes more and more desperate, taking and taking until the estate is on the verge of ruin. Her joy in life (food and sex), in Wideacre and in horses disappears, and there is nothing left.
It's interesting to watch the other characters change and grow with Beatrice. Her brother goes from a gifted young boy to a portly, boorish squire; Celia, his wife, matures from a wallflower into a pious, determined, brave young woman, the angel to Beatrice's devil; and John, Beatrice's husband, goes through hell and back. Beatrice, however, is different.
"If that was the way of the world, then the world would have to change. I would never change."
She makes this vow at five years old, but she sticks to it. However, one of the themes of the novel is adaptation. If you do not adapt, then eventually you must die in some way or another: this happens to her father, her first love, her mother, and eventually to Beatrice and Harry. At the ending, the air is cleansed, but you can see that it's not over yet.
The language in this novel is sometimes lyrical and sometimes crude. Beatrice is a compelling character, but difficult to like. There are many themes in this book: what women must do in a man's world to survive; paganism and Christianity; body and mind. It's a powerful read, very sensuous and full of life, but not for the faint-hearted.
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on 16 January 2011
This book seems to divide opinion, and it divided my own. On the one hand, I couldn't stop reading, and I loved the historical aspects etc. Unfortunately the main character was very irritating. I so wanted to like her for the whole girl power/land ownership aspect! And the incest thing was a bit disturbing but I guess it's supposed to be! Don't think I'll be reading the next in the trilogy.
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on 28 June 2005
I have really enjoyed lots of Phillipa Gregory novels but was not really sure what to make of wideacre. I really love Gregory's style of writing, her descriptions are great and her characters vivid but the problem with wideacre is that the main character Beatrice is absolutely hateful. Her story is so sordid and the lengths that she goes to for her land are quite unbelievable. I can't say that I enjoyed the book and in fact found it quite uncomfortable reading because all of the main characters are flawed and not easy to like but I appreciated the strength and style of the writing and the social comment being made for the time. If this is the first Philippa Gregory book you read don't be put off if you find it a bit much because you'll miss some really good reads.
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on 4 February 2009
I have read many of Phillippa Gregory's other novels and thought I would try Wideacre as it was one of her early works. The beginning of the novel is a real page turner; full of ups and downs, passions and beautiful sweeping descriptions of Wideacre. However, the main character is absolutely unlikeable and as her behaviour sinks to depths of depravity the likes of which I have certainly never read about in a novel before, the book eventually makes for a rather uncomfortable read.

I struggled through the rest of the book to be honest, yet I still wanted to see what would happen to Beatrice etc so managed to make it to the end. I did not know what to make of the novel by the time I had finished it and I can't say I really enjoyed it. However, I have bought the second in the series - I think maybe because the Wideacre story was so unlike anything else I have ever read!
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on 11 December 2003
Unlike the first two books, which began with their protagonists on a high point before falling, "Meridon" begins with its protagonist at her lowest point. Adopted by gypsies, Meridon struggles to earn a living with her feckless stepfather by breaking in wild ponies. Sold with her stepsister Dandy to a travelling show, life becomes more settled. Meridon's talent with horses - which readers of the previous books will recognise - enables her to escape from being a girl. She is most definitely a tomboy. Dandy, on the other hand, is growing up all too fast - which eventually leads to tragedy.
Meridon eventually finds her way to Wideacre, the mysterious "Wide" of her dreams - but of course, the reality is far different. Since it has been without a squire for fifteen years, the estate has become a commune. Meridon is both perplexed and annoyed with the changes, and continually torn between the appeal of the simple life on the land, represented by Will Tyacke, and Society, represented by Perry Havering and his mother. Eventually, under her new name of Sarah Lacey, she goes with them to London for the Season. However, she quickly finds that the rich can be just as deceiving and selfish as the poor, if not more so, and eventually realises that this cold selfish life is not for her.
This book has far more social commentary than the others - the idealism of Will Tyacke reminds the reader of Ralph, who is mysteriously absent. Perhaps this is meant to show that the past is gone, but I still felt that he should have made an appearance, however brief, because it would have been a link, and his absence after the first two books leaves a small hole. The miseries of high society are made crystal clear as Sarah feels bereft and alone. The commune of Wideacre is clearly detailed, although one has to wonder if such a thing really could have existed in the nineteenth century, because it's far more likely that Wideacre would just have been absorbed into the Havering lands, but there you go.
Meridon herself is a very complex and interesting character. Since the title is her name, the story is all about her identity. Physically, she resembles Beatrice - the red haired, green eyed granddaughter of which Beatrice dreamed in the first book - and her desire for Wideacre is also reminiscent of her grandmother. But she is looking for any kind of security - when she realises that she cannot completely possess Wideacre, she turns towards another way of making herself safe. She is not much like her mother, apart from the way she cares for animals and tries to take care of Perry. I was surprised that Gregory did not use something like Julia's journal (specifically mentioned in "The Favoured Child") to help Meridon, but that is the whole point of the book - she has to realise who she is for herself. Although Meridon keeps trying to be "Sarah Lacey", she cannot leave behind her roots, or the cold emptiness in her heart. In the end, having been stripped of the money she fought so hard to find, she rebels against her situation in a breathtaking flight with Will, one of the best scenes in the whole book.
The story has a satisfying ending, one that I doubt the reader could have predicted at the end of "Wideacre", or even at the end of "The Favoured Child". It could be read on its own, but certain echoes and hints would have more resonance after reading the first two books.
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on 13 February 2002
Meridon, gypsy bareback rider has a very different start in life to her mother and grandmother. But at the beginning of the book, Meridon doesn't know that. All she knows of her true identity is snatches of the place she dreams about which she calls Wide.
Meridon and her sister Dandy are sold in a job lot to Robert's circus, where Dandy trains as a trapeze artist and Meridon trains and rides the ponies with robert's son, Jack.
When Dandy is killed, Meridon is devestated, and goes on the road with the horse she won in a bet, Sea. Not knowing, or caring where she ends up, Meridon somehow finds her way to Wideacre, where she finds out that she is really Sarah Lacey, heir to the estate...
Although each of the books in this trilogy is set in the same place, about the same family, Philippa Gregory manages to create original storylines and characters. all the main characters, Beatrice, Julia and Meridon/Sarah share some similar qualities which make them Lacey's through and through, they are each different and have different attitudes to the land and ownership. This book would make sense on its own, but, more so than "The Favoured Child" features the backstory of the Lacey's rule on Wideacre, so i would recommend reading the other two books first.
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on 8 April 2008
I started reading this book on a number of occasions but kept giving up after a couple of chapters.

It was only as it came so highly recommended from a good friend that I decide to perservere and give it one more go - and I was certainly glad I did.

Once I'd got further into this book I was captivated and could barely put it down.

If you're expecting a nice, romantic, fluffy read then don't. But if you like your novels gritty (in an 18th century way) and with a realy vicious heroine then this is the book for you.

Despite the fact she committed some truly evil acts in a way I couldn't help but like Beatrice, and was rooting for her most of the time. Highly recommended.
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on 7 January 2002
I read this book a few years ago and absolutely loved it! The descriptions of the scenery in Sussex make it a real place and the comples characters become real. I've read it dozens of times and it still makes me want to read it again and i still can't put it down!
Beatrice Lacey has so many sides to her personality, she is the Witch of Wideacre who can make the land grow and then break it and wring it dry. As she faces her downfall, even after all the evil she has done, I think it is still impossible not to sympathise with her.
If you enjoy this book then you shoudl definately read The Favoured Child and Meridon, the two sequals, as well.
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on 26 February 2007
A fabulous debut and the book that sparked my interest in historicals. This was Philippa Gregory at her dark, imaginative best. Contrast this with the Tudor time warp in which she is currently stuck. The sequels, The Favoured Child and Meridon, maintain the standard.
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on 23 March 2015
From what I can gather, this is Philippa Gregory's first novel. All I can say is "Thank God" suceeding novels improved.
This has to be one of the worst books I have ever read. Yes, I get the drift, the author is attempting to portray how soul destroying it was for an 18th century intelligent woman to be totally beholden to a man. BUT did Beatrice, the main protagonist really have to be quite so despicable?
Even when she knows her actions are causing devastation, rather in the way of the "Walrus and the Carpenter" she sheds a few tears but continues to destroy everything and everyone around her.
Unbelievable to the point of being ludicrous, Repetitive descriptions, How many times do we hear about her green eyes and copper hair???
If you are a fan of later Gregory novels (as I am) do not touch this.
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