As the BBC's `Big Read' showed Anya Seton's 'Katherine' [l954] has had an enduring appeal to readers for sixty years. It was one of the books on my mother's book shelf and I read and loved it as a young teenager. In later years, memories of enjoying this book led me firstly to undertake a pilgrimage to Lincoln Cathedral to Katherine's grave and more importantly to read Alison Weir's non fiction account 'Katherine Swynford'. Weir's book is a scholarly and fascinating account of the life story of Katherine and John of Gaunt. With these two great books firmly in mind I approached Anne O'Brien's new take on Katherine and John's love story 'The Scandalous Duchess' with some trepidation. I am happy to say this new telling of the old story did not disappoint. The story is broadly[or perhaps I should say `loosely'?] on the same lines as Seton's novel [how could it not be] but this is definitely a fresh take on the story and, although O'Brien does not credit the outstanding research done by Weir,her novel does read as if she has taken Weir's research into account when writing her story . There is no hint in Seton's novel that John of Gaunt had many sexual encounters apart from his liaison with Katherine. However O'Brien does not shirk from writing about this and the effect, we in the 21st century assume, it would have had on Katherine. Nevertheless O'Brien does stop short at speculating, as Weir does, that there is a possibility that the 58 year old John of Gaunt died of a venereal disease. For the romantically inclined reader,however,the main thing is that, as history shows us,despite misunderstandings, the lovers overcame many years of trials and tribulations until in the end : `Reader' she `married him'! The dubious fact that this was to lead to her descendants giving us the perfidious Henry 7th is something even this Richard 3rd fan was prepared to put one side in the sheer pleasure of such a satisfactory, and historically surprising ending. fjs
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