Am getting a bit behind with my reviews as I have been hit by some lurgy that is making me feel a bit under the weather, but am now feeling a little bit better so here we go with a couple of reviews.
Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine is married to Louis Capet, a reluctant King of France who would much rather be a monk that rule his country. He shows a distinct lack of interest in the physical side of their marriage, preferring to spend his time fasting and praying. His mentor and adviser Bishop Sugar has to insist that he consummate the marriage as it is his duty to do so but Eleanor is left hurt and bewildered by his attitude. As a strong and determined woman, she has little time or understanding of a husband who is indecisive and weak and makes disastrous political mistakes. Determined to rule her own lands, Eleanor leads the men of Aquitaine on Crusade which causes a huge scandal and is fiercely opposed by Louis. Eleanor is determined to obtain a divorce on pretext of the illegality of their union through consanguinity. "I lingered on my failure in twelve years to produce any child but a girl who would never rule France. Did his Holiness not realise that over the past two hundred years no Capetian king had ever failed to produce at least one male heir? Yet Louis and I had failed. It was God's punishment"
My knowledge of Eleanor is very sketchy, the odd Jean Plaidy book and the film The Lion in Winter when her second husband, King Henry II of England, who has had her imprisoned for years (not sure why I need to look it up), lets her out for Christmas and she comes to join him, his mistress and her sons. I remember the glorious Carmina Burana type film score, Peter O'Toole totally over the top as Henry and the marvellous Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor. I have a feeling after reading this book that Hepburn had got her just about right.
An immensely readable and enjoyable title and all lovers of historical novels will find this fascinating. I certainly did. My only caveat is the cover - no, not a headless woman this time, thank goodness, but a photograph of a model dressed in costume and with a very modern make up. I am glad this excellent book was sent to me by the publsihers as I am not sure that, if seen in a bookshop, I would have wanted to buy it because of this. And I would have missed a treat.
Frances has been married to Sol for a long time. He is eccentric, to put it mildly, and rather difficult to live with. They are returning from holiday when Sol demands to know why they cannot live in Northumberalnd on a permanent basis. Frances is reluctant to do so. 'Maybe we could come for a month next year - push the boat out' 'Forget it. I've decided I'm not coming back unless it's to live here for good. It's too painful to be here every year and see something I yearn for and can't have'
Frances is on the brink of a new career. She has spent her life supporting other people, Sol and his publishing business, an elderly aunt and her children and now she wanted to do something for herself. She is a volunteer at a neighbourhood crisis centre with a view to eventually getting a job in advice work. She has made contacts and started out and doesn't want to break off now. However, Sol has got the bit between his teeth and when he finds that there is a possibility of renting their house out to a company for a film for several months he writes to them offering them their property. Frances hopes that it will be unsuitable and is horrified when they send them a contract which she keeps hidden from Sol and never replies to so reluctant is she to move.
She is unable to keep the secret for long, however, and the house is eventually contracted out to the film makers and Sol arranges their move, barely speaking to Frances so angry is he with her deception. In the meantime, Frances has been offered a job and has accepted telling Sol she will come and see him at weekends. It appears doubtful that the marriage will survive this rift and separation.
For me to fully enjoy a book I have to engage with the characters. I found Sol to be so irritating and selfish that I longed to get hold of him and give him a good thump (actually, this probably means I was engaged...) and his lack of understanding of Frances's position and her thoughts and feelings made me wonder why she put up with him.
To Frances's dismay, Sol seems to be managing perfectly well without her and there is talk of a friendly, neighbour called Loretta which alarms her.
"Sol, do you love me?" Oh why had she asked? Why had she laid herself open to that bleak feeling that always swept in with his inadequate answers?
"What kind of question is that?"
"I'm not sure that is relevant to anything. You are there, and I am here"
You can see why I wanted to thump him can't you? Of course, there is a reason for his behaviour but as this is not revealed until the second half of the book, it is difficult to find much sympathy for him and I was on the side of Frances right from the start. Because she loves him and as he always has the upper hand because of his seeming intransigence, she has to compromise and choose whether to be with him or not.
My thanks to Sue Hepworth for kindly sending me a copy of this thoughtful and well written book with its portrayal of the ups and downs of a long lasting marriage.
I would not have put up with Sol for five minutes, but as a double-divorcee, I am probably not the best Marriage Advisor in the world.......
UPDATE: Please check out one of my favourite blogs I Prefer Reading which not only reviews Sue's book but also has an interview with her. Here is the link: http://preferreading.blogspot.com/2011/06/sue-hepworth-on-self-publishing-her.html