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2.0 out of 5 stars (1.5 stars) Melodramatic, 25 Sep 2013
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This review is from: The Confession of Piers Gaveston (Kindle Edition)
The Confession of Piers Gaveston, Brandy Purdy's first novel, was self-published with iUniverse in 2007 and is 181 pages long. The novel is narrated in the first person by Piers himself, in modern English with the occasional word like 'mayhap' thrown in, and reminds me in countless ways of Chris Hunt's 1992 novel Gaveston, a much longer, insightful and, for all its excessively purple prose, a far more accomplished work. I knew I wasn't going to get on well with Confession when in the very first scene we see Piers Gaveston's mother Claramonde de Marsan being burned alive as a witch - an invention of 300+ years later - and shortly afterwards are introduced to a Piers who is lowborn and destitute and has an uncle who's an innkeeper. Let us remember at this point that a) Piers Gaveston's father and grandfathers historically were among the leading barons of Béarn, and b) that Edward I himself placed Piers in his son's, the future king of England's, household as his companion. By 1300 standards, the likelihood of him doing such a thing if Piers hadn't been of noble birth are so minute you'd need a powerful microscope to see it. I also groaned out loud on page 2 when Edward II is addressed as 'Nedikins', a nickname to which the unfortunate reader is subjected throughout, and called His Most Christian Majesty, as though Edward was a king of France. Piers is, tediously and improbably, a Goddess-worshipper, a frequent cliché in novels featuring him (e.g. the Chris Hunt one, Sandra Wilson's Alice) based on the entirely false story that his mother was burned as a witch, and presumably on the statements of various contemporaries that he had bewitched the king and "was accounted a sorcerer." Although he died excommunicate because he had returned to England after being perpetually banished, there's no reason to think Piers wasn't as much a devout Christian as anyone else at the time.

Early in the novel, when he is only nine years old, Piers' body is sold to a lodger by his "unscrupulous innkeeper" uncle - a baffling character to anyone who knows anything at all about late thirteenth-century history - and he thereafter chooses to become a "boy-harlot." This may be trigger-ish for some readers. Child sex abuse and child prostitution are not topics that I personally want to read about, and frankly I didn't expect to find them in a novel about Piers Gaveston. "My rapist had opened my eyes to my allure, and my value. The Goddess gifted me with great beauty, the kind that inspires awe and takes the beholder's breath away...". The novel is pretty well just about Piers' sex life, and his life as a prostitute, and how he has sex with lots of men and women, then has more sex, and just when you think he might actually do something interesting or different, meets someone else and has lots more sex. As a few readers will know, this is par for the course in a Purdy novel; there are people who'll never look at Tudor history the same way again after reading her scene involving Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and a jar of honey. Edward II and Piers also have lots of sex, including in a carriage on the way from Dover to London after Edward arrives back in the country with his new wife, Isabella. There is a scene where Piers leaves his new wife Margaret's bed on their wedding night to sleep with Edward, which scene also appears in Chris Hunt's novel about Piers. Piers is so seductive in Confession that even men who normally only fancy women find themselves lusting after him, which is also - like so much else in the novel - reminiscent of Chris Hunt's Gaveston (pretty well all the men in that one fancy Piers too). Piers insists on telling the reader frequently and at length how cold and empty all the paid-for sex makes him, a "practised tart" as we are told over and over, feel. Diddums. No doubt this makes some readers feel sympathy and empathy with him, but it just made me feel impatient and bored. "Practised tart," indeed, a man who in reality was lord lieutenant of Ireland, regent of England, jousting champion and so on. Although the fact that Piers did have a life outside the bedchamber is occasionally mentioned, we see nothing at all of his abilities and experiences as a soldier, jouster, military and political leader, earl, estate manager. It's all just about his sex life and how about beautiful and seductive he is and how horrible it is that no-one, including Edward, loves him for himself and not his physical attributes (Edward "was too blinded by my beauty to actually see me" is a typical refrain).

The characterisation of Edward II in Confession, a "feckless, addle-pated king" and a "buttercup blonde [sic]" (pp. 5, 14), appears to have been taken straight from the Big Book Of Horrible Dated Gay Caricatures. He sobs constantly, he pouts, he sighs, he yelps, he wails, he stamps his foot and throws silly tantrums, he swoons, he shrieks, he behaves like a teenage girl with a crush. I find it offensive. Edward in general is deeply selfish, shallow and unpleasant throughout, and a wholly unlikeable character who doesn't change or develop at all. Piers claims to genuinely love him, though it's hard to see why. Piers himself also comes across as a stereotype, the bisexual man willing to have sex with anything that has a pulse, who preens, flirts and simpers. I may be in a minority here, as there are plenty of positive reviews of the novel online, but I don't see any depth to Purdy's creation of Piers Gaveston, don't find his relationship with Edward plausible or interesting, don't feel any sympathy or liking for any of the characters, don't see Piers' wit, don't see anything at all that makes me think this is in any way a realistic retelling of Piers' and Edward's story.

An Amazon review of the novel states: "Some of the scenes in the novel seem almost unbelievably melodramatic - such as Edward abandoning his bride on their wedding day for his male lover's company and actually giving him the jewelry that had been a wedding gift from the queen's father - but these are all documented historical events! Brandy Purdy's depiction of them is insightful and accurate, outrageous though it may seem that a king would behave that way." It is emphatically not 'accurate'; Edward and Piers didn't meet again until almost two weeks after Edward's wedding to Isabella, and Edward did not give Isabella's jewels to Piers, an invention of many centuries later (I am more sick than I can adequately express of that wretched myth). Purdy has Eleanor de Clare marrying Hugh Despenser in 1318 after he has become her uncle's favourite, a dozen years after she actually did. Edward, naturally, abandons Isabella when she's pregnant in 1312 to save Piers, even though he didn't really.

I asked myself if I'd like the novel more if it weren't about Piers Gaveston and Edward II, but about an invented king and his invented promiscuous lover. In all honesty I probably wouldn't dislike it quite as much as I do, but I'm afraid I'm really not a fan of Purdy's overly melodramatic writing style, with breathless italics and countless exclamation marks!!! on just about every page. On page 52, for example, twenty-two words are written in italics and there are twenty exclamation marks. Page 61 has sixteen exclamation marks and fifteen words in italics; page 147 has twenty-one exclamation marks and no fewer than thirty-four words in italics. On one page. I find it tiring and tiresome to read. There are some things I do like in the novel: Piers' attempts to be kind and affectionate towards his innocent young wife Margaret de Clare - even though he does abandon her on their wedding night to sleep with her uncle - and his love for his daughters Joan (with Margaret) and Amy (with a woman named Sarah). A lot of the description is very well and vividly done, and Piers as 'unreliable narrator' is at times skilfully done and Purdy makes good use of her choice to write in first person. But it's a shame to see a fascinating man like Piers Gaveston written as little more than a lovelorn prostitute with so many of the fascinating events of his life skated over or ignored altogether, and a shame to see a novel perpetuating unpleasant stereotypes about gay and bi men's behaviour. OK if you want a quick salacious read, but Confession has precious little to do with history.
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