The Confession of Katherine Howard Paperback – 12 May 2011
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'Dunn gives the story a vivid, contemporary feel, and Katherine's conversations with her closest friend, Cathryn Tilney, are gossipy and intimate, full of sly innuendo and confidences.' Marie Claire
'Those who have fallen in love with the drama of the Tudor period will devour the Confession of Katherine Howard…an insightful foray into the life of one of Henry VIII's most misunderstood yet fascinating wives.' Scottish Sunday Herald
‘Gripping, a pageturner, a thriller … Dunn’s book has an incisive insight into how manipulative people work.’ Dublin Evening Herald
From the Back CoverThe tragic, moving, and gripping story of the ascendanceand fall of Katherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, and the best friend she nearly dragged down with her
When twelve-year-old Katherine Howard comes to livein the Duchess of Norfolk's household she could not bemore different than her poor relation, Cat Tilney. Yet, of all their companions, it is Cat, watchful and ambitious, to whom theseemingly frivolous young girl confides. When Katherine is summonedto the royal court at seventeen--to become, months later, the wife ofHenry VIII after he casts off his previous queen--she leaves behind anex-lover, Francis, with whom Cat is soon passionately involved.
But a future that seems assured for the pampered new queen andher maid-in-waiting lasts a brief year and a half, only to be imperiledby improper acts and scandalous allegations of girlhood love affairs.Imprisoned in the Tower and hoping to escape a most terrible fate, afrightened, desperate Katherine relates a version of events that onlyCat recognizes as a lie--as more than one life is threatened by what shealone knows to be the truth about Katherine Howard's past.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition. See all Product description
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Told in the first person by Cat Tilney (a lady-in-waiting and childhood friend of Katherine's) we are told about their time together as teenagers where, with other girls, they were supposed to be learning to be ladies but were learning more about boys than anything else in the lax and slipshod Duchess' residence.
The story alternates between the claustrophobic Tudor court and the carefree life in the Duchess' house. This may sound confusing but the switch over between the past and present are always smooth and never jar on the reader.
Katherine Howard is portrayed as more knowing than I would have thought and she's a difficult character to warm to at times but the reader is always reminded of her youth, how little she really knew of the pitiless and vindictive Tudor court. Henry VIII is never really portrayed only glimpsed as a massive, monstrous and god-like figure who can destroy lives from a distance.
Susannah Dunn also tells a love story as the narrator falls in love with Francis Dereham only to have it all fall apart around her. It is a stunning story of betrayal, passion, innocence and fear packed with emotion and incident. Beautifully told, I was hooked until the last page.
Cat first met Katherine whilst being tutored at the home of the Duchess of Norfolk with a number of other girls. They were supposed to be learning about becoming ladies and how to run their own household, but these teenage girls had lots of romantic dreams. I got the impression that Cat was quite naïve, she was bright but had been sheltered and knew little about `ways of the heart' and wanted desperately to please her family and make them proud. Katherine meanwhile had no real family, and was much more confident than Cat, but quietly so. She comes across as very enigmatic, and we only learn what she is prepared to reveal to Cat. Katherine has more romances than Cat, and knew how to catch the attention of men, which Cat was clueless about. Whilst neither girl could be considered sophisticated, it is Katherine's influential family connections that get her a place at court, as a lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves, something none of the other girls had even dreamed of. Cat is not included and knows very little about this period in Katherine's life until Katherine weds the king and she is summoned to court.
Katherine Howard isn't as well documented as Anne Boleyn in historical fiction, and I like the fact that we only really learn about her through Cat (who was also a real person in history), however because of this we never really get to know Katherine that well, and I can only guess that is the intention. The problem with this is that (admittedly this may be influenced by the fact that the outcome of the events is well-documented) you don't care about Katherine that much, you don't root for her at the end. In an about turn it seems that Katherine was the naïve one, never expecting her actions to catch up with her, and to become accountable for her risks. In the end Cat seems to be the stronger figure, and you do hope that all will be well for her, but she does come over as a bit wishy-washy in places.
The author, Susannah Dunn, is an established author who has written other Tudor based historical novels. I enjoyed her story-telling, and I liked how she brought little-known people to life, I would certainly consider reading other works of hers. The book is engaging and well-written although the language used by the characters is a little too contemporary for my liking. Ultra-modern phrases such as `she would be a laugh' and `we hung around together' just didn't sit right with me. I don't particularly want to read Tudor English either, but toning down of the modern phrases would have been preferred. It is not a big book - my (over-sized paperback) copy ran to 226 pages and I think it would be enjoyable to most readers, whether they were historical fiction fans or not.
The book didn't disappoint. It is told from the story of Cat Tilney, a close friend of Katherine and part of the queen's household. It was a refreshing change to see what unfolds from her perspective. I also thought Dunn had done an exceptional job of explaining what happened without making it boring or too complicated.
It shocked me how naive Katherine was. At times I was shouting 'what are you doing?!'. She truly believed that Thomas Culpepper was what she deserved, for having to put up with the king. Historians have labelled her as a silly little girl. I think she was quite the opposite. She knew exactly what she was doing. As it says in the book, 'she was a girl who couldn't help herself.'
It lost a star because there were some grammatical errors that really irritated me and I did find myself unsure of who was who at times (perhaps this says more about how much I concentrated in history!).
The ending has been criticized by some but I found it perfect. After all, we are all aware of what happens. For me, it's the build up that is the most interesting.
This was a book that I really enjoyed. It's not a history textbook and if that's what you are expecting, you'll be sadly disappointed. If you want a good novel, based on history, you could do a lot worse than this!
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