Top critical review
Really not worth it
on 26 January 2014
Having carefully resisted for a very long time, buying historical novels by such 'pop' historians as Phillippa Gregory and Alison Weir - I wouldn't touch Weir with a barge pole! - I finally gave in and bought the Red Queen and The Lady of the Rivers. Won't bore anyone with the reasons for this unwonted capitulation! Having now read both books, they will go straight to the charity shop, for redistribution. I am a person who never gets rid of a book unless it is just too awful, and I know it will never be read again, and I love all historical books, as long as they are well written, and have an intrinsic integrity.
All I can say here is that The Lady of the Rivers was marginally more interesting than The Red Queen, and that Gregory certainly has strength in her powers of imagining people, places, and situations, about which we have only the flimsiest of genuine knowledge - if any at all. Her realisation of these things, especially in The Lady of the Rivers, is interesting and attractive.
But her writing style is just AWFUL! It spoils any enjoyment that there might have been in the content. The continous device of writing in the first person, and in the present tense, is massively irritating, cheap, and a complete turn-off. It had me writhing in pain from the outset, and I had to force myself to continue reading, simply so that I could make a fair assessment.
As someone else has observed, I would think long and hard about criticising a labour of this kind - it can be no small thing to write a book. I don't under-estimate the work and it's clear that Gregory does know her history, whether or not she interprets it in a viable way. But this appalling literary style is just a nightmare, and a good writer would be ashamed to employ such a method.
I recently read Sharon Penman's The Sunne in Splendour - which is a marvellous book - and despite the occasional Americanism, in which she has Richard III planning to do something 'in the fall', instead of in the autumn (crass indeed - what were her editors thinking?), yet even with something as glaring as that, it is a FAR better written book than Gregory's, and the literary style is mostly great.
This only gets 2 stars in recognition of the imaginative element, and because it's clear that Gregory has done some research. Otherwise it would get nothing at all. It's hard to understand why her books are so popular - can only assume that not many people nowadays really know what good writing should actually be like.