"to be called a Flanders Mare?",
This review is from: My Lady of Cleves (Paperback)
I like to think that, at this stage, I have built up a fairly strong base knowledge concerning historical fiction. I have read a lot. Nevertheless, as with all reading in this genre I always consult one forum alone after completion of my newest find; my Mom. She's read ten times more than I have and there's not a historical fiction novel I can name she hasn't partaken in at one point or another. And she very much helped me to clarify my thoughts on this book.
It's dated. Badly.
I'll leave comparisons to the end because it's unfair to immediately throw in other author's names. But suffice to say I found a lot of problems here. If it were not a novel about the relatively unwritten about Anne of Cleves it would have been two stars. However I enjoyed the chance to finally read from the perspective of the jilted Flemish Princess. She's a character I've been interested in for some time, always searching for small details about her. Not least because her marriage was the ultimate downfall of my favourite historical personage - Thomas Cromwell.
Campbell Barnes does a fair job of attempting to capture the confusion and fear running like a vein through Anne's marriage. However her portrayal of Anne, I think, is overly flattering. As is her depiction of a whole host of characters. In contrast to that her thoughts on characters such as Cromwell and Wriothsley were wholly negative. Therefore there is very little moral grey to her characterisation, which I think is so important in a novel about the Tudor court. Everyone played along a blurred line there, no one announced their loyalty to anyone but the King. Yet the moral compass of characters here is more fitting for a fairytale than an attempt at reliving reality.
I also thought a lot of the flow was lost as, with each changing chapter, time jumps differed hugely. A month passes, a year. Huge chunks of married life are missed out. In my case one of the things I was most looking forward to was interactions with Anne and Henry, both during their marriage and after it. Instead I was accosted by a fictitious flirtation between Anne and Hans Holbein. I didn't mind this too much, romance sells and without that authorial interjection Campbell Barnes would have struggled with childless, divorced Anne. However I would have preferred less obviousness between Holbein and Anne - personally it struck me as a little forced.
Historical accuracy did many leaps from the window, departing completely from any semblance of reality. When I saw scenes reminiscent of the TV show The Tudors I had to smile. Perhaps Neil Jordan read this novel when writing about the marriage of Anne of Cleves? However in a world post The Other Boleyn Girl, I am well used to vast departures from historical accuracy and, whilst I sometimes wish the author had done just a little more research, I can largely accept it in a novel borne of fiction.
Saying all of this I did, to an extent, enjoy reading. It was a light read and, whilst it lacked the historical depth and sharp characterisation of Jean Plaidy (I told you name dropping was coming) I thought that, for the time it was written (1946) this is a well enough way to dip your toes into the Tudor world and experience it through she who was perhaps Henry's luckiest Queen.