Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book Review: The Constant Princess

The Constant Princess
Philippa Gregory

Katherine of Aragon is born Catalina, the Spanish Infanta, to parents who are both kings and crusaders. At the age of three, she is betrothed to Prince Arthur, son and heir of Henry VII of England, and is raised to be Princess of Wales. She knows that it is her destiny to rule that far-off, wet, cold land. Her faith is tested when her prospective father-in-law greets her arrival in her new country with a great insult; Arthur seems little better than a boy; the food is strange and the customs coarse. Slowly she adapts to the first Tudor court, and life as Arthur's wife grows ever more bearable. Unexpectedly in this arranged marriage, a tender and passionate love develops. But when the studious young man dies, she is left to make her own future: how can she now be queen, and found a dynasty? Only by marrying Arthur's young brother, the sunny but spoilt Henry. His father and grandmother are against it; her powerful parents prove little use. Yet Katherine is her mother's daughter and her fighting spirit is indomitable. She will do anything to achieve her aim; even if it means telling the greatest lie, and holding to it.

Star Rating:

I absolutely loved this book.

I was introduced to Philippa Gregory's work a couple years ago when chatting with one of my co-workers about the movie The Other Boleyn Girl being completely oblivious that it was a book-turned-film. It was only recently that I actually started reading her books, and it was certainly worth the wait. The way Gregory paints the historical character brings new life to her. It is amazing the way the stories fit so perfectly together, and the coldness of Queen Katharine that is seen in The Other Bolelyn Girl is entirely justified - the poor woman has suffered enough! What makes it more interesting, though, is the knowledge that this woman was real. Not real to the letter, perhaps, but real in some way, and many of the events presented are ones that really happened. In historical fiction, one of two things can happen to the reader's perception of the truth: either the reader will come to despise the character for the author's failure to present them are entirely human, or they will come to love (or at least pity) the character because they will gain a better understanding of their suffering. Gregory, I believe, succeeds in the latter.

One thing that I greatly appreciated was the lack of smut - in historical fiction, especially in Tudor England, there is the opportunity to write in several graphic sex scenes, and Gregory resisted that, keeping the novel a story rather than light pornography, which she certainly could have done. I don't know if this is the case with all of her work, but I appreciated it in this particular novel.

It took me a little while to get a hang of her writing style - she shifts between first person present and third person past. Fortunately, she does mark the difference in italics - the Infanta's thoughts are always italic. It requires a careful read, to be sure you grasp the point-of-view she is using in the non-italicized portions, however.

My greatest complaint about the book, which was not enough to ruin it for me, was the ending. Gregory spends a great deal of time certralised around Katherine's marriage to Arthur, and her suffering afterwards while she grows strong through a widowhood, the wooing of a king, being in disfavor, having a miscarriage, being made a fool, and leading an army to Scotland. After the Scottish king dies, however, the paces speeds up dramatically in the last chapter or so. It feels rushed, unfinished compared to the rest of the book. I think it would have sufficed to end the book at the fall of the Scottish king, but perhaps that is because I already know how Catalina's story ends, and others do not.

This book is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in Tudor England, and lovers of history in general. Historical fiction must, as always, be taken with a grain of salt, but Gregory offers a passable (if not fairly accurate) representation of the times and culture. It would be best offered for young adults and up, at the fear that high schoolers (unless advanced readers) would find it boring. I would suggest it as in-school reading at the college level, perhaps for extra credit! While the accuracy is shoddy, it does provide a perspective of Tudor England, and sometimes the perspective provided by a piece of fiction greatly helps contextualise the mounds of facts derived from non-fiction.

0 secrets:

Post a Comment