An ambitious fictional biography burdened by an overly intricate plot.

READ REVIEW

THE DARK LADY'S MASK

The identity of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady is still a mystery, but Sharratt’s picaresque novel portrays one of the worthiest candidates.

Aemilia, illegitimate daughter of Battista Bassano, a Venetian Jew in exile and a renowned musician in Queen Elizabeth’s court, enjoys a privileged upbringing. But her father’s death and her stepsister’s marriage to a ne’er-do-well impoverishes her family. Rescued and educated by a Puritan noblewoman who later abandons her, Aemilia becomes, at 16, the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, Elizabeth I’s chamberlain, himself an illegitimate son of Henry VIII. When Aemilia becomes pregnant at 23, Hunsdon marries her off to Alfonse Lanier, a dissolute Frenchman. After Lanier wastes all her wealth, Aemilia contacts Will Shakespeare, an unsuccessful playwright of dull history plays, with a proposition. With her vivid imagination and superior education, she will co-author plays with the yet-to-be Bard, and they will split the profits. News of an unexpected legacy takes her to Venice, where she keeps her Jewish identity, and often her gender, secret. (She dresses in men’s clothes when she needs to escape the many strictures on women.) Shakespeare, with not a thought for his wife, Anne Hathaway, and their three children, accompanies Aemilia (and Henry, her son by Lord Hunsdon) to Italy, where the two lead an idyllic existence at her inherited Veronese villa, co-writing Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet (as a comedy)—and falling in love. Here, Will pens his “Dark Lady” sonnets—but the bloom falls precipitously off the rose when he learns of the death of his son, Hamnet. Plunged into intractable remorse, Will parts ways with Aemilia, and both return to England by separate routes. However, Aemilia has possession of their joint work product—and Will’s unborn child. The many challenges of life in Elizabethan England, particularly for women, are expertly captured by Sharratt, who heretofore has brought similar life to another gifted woman, Hildegard of Bingen (Illuminations, 2012).

An ambitious fictional biography burdened by an overly intricate plot.

Pub Date: April 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-30076-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more