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Philippa Gregory: The Lady of the Rivers
The Lady of the Rivers tells the story of Jacquetta, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville who was the Queen of England in the fifteenth century.
Raised by a wealthy family in France, Jacquetta is descended from a goddess with outstanding talents. She weds the Duke of Bedford, the king's uncle, who introduces her to alchemy. After her brief marriage that ends with the Duke's demise, Jacquetta falls in love with a squire, marries him and gives him over a dozen kids; the eldest of which is Elizabeth Woodville.
As the novel moves forward, Jacquetta becomes close to the English Queen Marjaret of Anjou and is privy to the kingdom's most intimate secrets due to this friendship. The novel loosely covers the events leading up to The Cousin's War between the house of York and the house of Lancaster. Jacquetta sides with the queen and is a firm ally of the house of Lancaster.
The Lady of the Rivers' recurring theme is to highlight what happens to women who dare to take their fate into their own hands. Beginning her novel with the execution of Joan of Arc, Gregory provides a portrait of how women were mistreated at the time.
The story is the third in Gregory's Plantagenet women series, but for loyal fans, The Lady of the Rivers doesn’t quite match the calibre of her previous novels.
Historical fiction is known to offer insight into the minds of historical characters; adding perspective to the past, but that's exactly what The Lady of the Rivers lacks. Jacquetta is one character that hasn't been done enough justice in history books, and the same applies to this novel. Gregory doesn't dig beneath the surface to show – rather than tell – readers what Jacquetta really feels and why she acts the way she does.
The author has so little solid information about Jaquetta to work with and build on, and the end result clearly reflects that. Her character doesn't develop much, and teenage Jacquetta feels a lot like her mother-of-sixteen self. Gregory has chosen a subject matter that was uninterestingly presented in previous works, and she ought to have gone a bit further and added zest to Jaquetta's otherwise bland character.
Other characters seem one-dimensional and their conversations are stilted. Gregory has fallen into the habit of mentioning the characters' titles every time she mentions their names; although this might prove to be helpful, it gets quite irritating after the first dozen times.
In closing, Gregory's fans who are used to her engaging writing and unique take on things might find The Lady of the Rivers a tad disappointing as it lacks that magical flair that her other novels have been known for.
Joseph Anton was Rushdie’s pseudonym when he went into hiding, so it makes for a good title for a memoir detailing that particular part of his life. So one would assume the book details mostly that: the fatwa, its consequences and the efforts undertaken to void it. Unfortunately, there is a lot of toffee-nosed non-information one has to wade through to get to the interesting stuff.
The book is littered with numerous unnecessary references to several of his ‘beloved’, ‘amazing’ and ‘great’ friends such as Harold Pinter, Susan Sontag and Martin Amis. A good two pages are wasted detailing a dinner party at the home of then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. It would be more interesting to know how the fatwa was annulled (spoiler alert: it never actually officially was), not how Rushdie’s son Milan spent at least half an hour sitting on Tony Blair’s lap and how jolly a time was had by all.
Born and raised in Texas, Gretchen McCullough's teaching career has taken her to Egypt, Turkey and Japan; currently, McCullough teaches writing in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.
Released earlier this year, her latest publication is titled ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’; a compilation of short stories revolving around a host of eccentric individuals and their experiences in Cairo. A large bulk of the stories are driven by the thoughts rummaging through the characters minds and, more often than not, they transpire to be both charming and relatable.
‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ has a colourful team of characters with strong presence, charisma and an air of familiarity. Digging deeper into their personal lives and problems, her writing style is distinct, bringing an American charm and non-linearity to her stories, which builds a pleasant intricacy.
With many of the characters connected by a single building in Garden City, McCullough allots the main characters in her stories as small cameos in others, spreading the characters' presence and allowing for further development.
In ‘A Little Honey and a Little Sunlight’, we are given insight into the raging nature of Professor Gary by his dying neighbour, Joe Pulaski - a poet - reminiscing his days spent living in Cairo. Many pages later in ‘Pure Water’, we find ourselves reading from the eyes of Dr Gary as he spends time with his bulky Greek friend, Kolombos, in a mental asylum before the uprising of January 25th. The title story, meanwhile, sees two main protagonists; journalist and teacher, Mary Beth Somers, and her dentist, Dr Samy. Far from sappy, the two fall into a love which avoids the overt romantic notions seen in cliched literature, despite ending on a melancholic note.
Aside from the characters, Cairo as a city is portrayed as an integral player in the stories. On regular occasions, vivid descriptions of popular places in the city are given, such as El Horreya, Windsor Bar, the Gezirah Club and Koshari Abou Tarek. Having visited all these places ourselves, it's obvious that McCullough has immersed herself in the city, and amongst its people, well beyond the point of a touristic escapade. She’s become a sort of semi-native, in touch with Cairene culture, but maintains enough outside insight to give a new perspective to those who’ve been living in the city for too long.
With its mix of emotions and interesting character troupe, ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ promises an entertaining, comforting read for both locals and foreigners alike.