An expansive, immersive look at Edward II.


Zanghellini (The Sexual Constitution of Political Authority, 2015) imagines the personal life and loves of English King Edward II in this work of historical fiction.

In 1308, 12-year-old Queen Isabella of France comes to England to marry its king, Edward II. However, on the night of the wedding, Edward—a decade her senior—assures her that he won’t consummate the marriage until she’s an adult. Isabella then meets the king’s best friend, Sir Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall. The two men have a friendship that makes other nobles at the English court whisper. “My husband the King is always quite full of life, from what I can judge,” Isabella observes, “but never so much as when he’s with the Earl.” Edward met Piers, the dashing son of a Gascon banneret, when the former was only 15. He succeeded to the throne with Piers as his lover and closest adviser, although the relationship—and the power it grants Piers—draws the ire of Edward’s earls. They scheme to banish Piers, but when the king thwarts their wishes, they find a more permanent, and deadly, solution. In the aftermath of Piers’ murder, his memory—perhaps even his ghost—haunts Edward, who must find a way to rule a country that doesn’t understand him. Zanghellini writes in a deliberative, detailed prose style throughout that illuminates the historical record while also imbuing his characters with agency and urgency: “He didn’t try to explain to her that sinking to the bottom of the sea, clutching Piers to his heart, seemed far more desirable to him than any number of alternative fates likely to await them if Lancaster and the others had their way.” Although some readers may find the central relationship of the novel to be a bit too idealized, the author also creates a complex, engrossing character in Isabella, who serves to ground the narrative; her observations give readers a clear window into the life of an unusual medieval monarch. Overall, the book should please aficionados of historical fiction—particularly those who are interested in the things that history books usually leave out.

An expansive, immersive look at Edward II.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59021-696-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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