In the afterword to The Last Tudor Philippa Gregory says she may not revisit what has been an incredibly successful series of novels about women during the War of the Roses and the Tudor Ascension. And while I have really enjoyed this series – its easy to see why. She is stretching a little here in this final installment.
There are actually three narrators in The Last Tudor – all of which have part of a story to share about Elizabeth’s coming to power. The first is Lady Jane Grey – who was crowned queen for all of nine days. She was then imprisoned in the tower by Queen Mary and later executed for treason. Lady Jane is an uninspiring narrator, and it is actually a pleasure to move on to the second narrator, her younger sister Katherine.
When Elizabeth comes to the throne it is still amongst talk of her unmarried status. And as time speeds by and she remains unmarried (clearly due to her love for Robert Dudley in this text) pressure mounts for her to name an heir. Unfortunately for Katherine, she is too likely a successor. Elizabeth, portrayed as tyrannical queen desperate to hold on to the throne at all costs, sees Katherine as a threat. When Katherine marries into another high-ranking York house for love and in secret, she makes herself a target. Elizabeth imprisons her, her husband and her children.
Although we follow Katherine’s tragic yet touching history for some years and long into her confinement, the youngest sister Mary takes her turn narrating. Mary is the most interesting of the three sisters – a pragmatist with a unique perspective. Pretty as a doll but likely what would have been referred to as a dwarf in those times, Mary is incredibly wary and astute about Elizabeth – who never let any of her ladies marry. Mary too weds in secret, but far below her. She too incurs Elizabeth’s wrath.
It is interesting to see each of the sisters through each other’s eyes, and their damning portrayal of Elizabeth, who is long considered to have ushered in a ‘golden age’ in British history. The last section is by far the best, but it’s clear this is wearing thin. A novel parallel to this, set from Elizabeth’s perspective, would be most welcome though.
Sofie Laguna’s The Eye of the Sheep won the 2015 Miles Franklin – and is one of my favourite reads of recent years. So when I was offered a review copy of her latest, The Choke, I could not say yes fast enough.
The Choke is destined to win awards too.
Laguna excels at writing complex child narrators, and placing them in dangerous worlds. But thats where the similarities between these two books end.
Justine is a girl abandoned by both father and mother and living with her ailing grandfather in a remote place known as the choke – where the bush meets the river. She’s not neglected, but certainly lives a simple lifestyle in a man’s world. It’s a violent world too – and Laguna makes this apparent even in describing children’s play in the opening chapter.
School is no refuge either – at least, not until she befriends a young disabled not who is also an outsider. But not even this can save her from the violence in her world. Before she is 14 she has witnessed and experienced abuse. And your heart will break. I doubt anyone could read this story and not be moved by what Justine experiences – and perhaps more powerfully, how she turns something just awful into something potentially beautiful. There were tears in my eyes as I closed the final pages. This is not to be missed.
Two friends just don’t know that disaster is waiting for them around the corner.
While we all try on new identities in our youth as a way of trying to manage the enormous possibilities of who
we are and what we will become – sometimes we make damaging choices that never leave us.
When studious Cat finds herself in Silver Lake, a tiny town in rural Michigan, she could not be further away from her New York private school. Just as the loss of the life she imaged begins to hit her… a new best friend stands ready and waiting. Marlena.
Marlena is daring and exciting – but also troubled. She introduces Cat to a fast-paced life of drinking, soft drugs, boys and skipping school. And while we see Cat’s downward spiral, even more alarming is the reader’s realisation that what is happening to Marlena is even more profound.
Marlena was a book that was difficult to put down. It’s a novel about friendship and youth and that feeling of indestructibility that sadly we must learn just isn’t real. This is an impressive debut novel that read flawlessly.