Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Bitchery at Henry's Court

Amenable Women by Mavis Cheek has kept me enthralled this weekend.
Here's the outline - Flora Chapman is in her fifties when her glamourous husband suddenly dies. Not unduly grief-stricken, Flora decides to rewrite her husband's history of their village, since the idea had been hers in the first place. She finds a reference to Anna of Cleves, the Flanders Mare, and believes they are soulmates - plain women, both of them.
Her research leads her deeper and deeper. Her home is, after all, one of the properties ceded to Anna after Henry repudiated her.
Then the subtle shift begins with these quiet words: 'The room is hushed. It is the hour of the spirit rather than the flesh, the hour for portraits to breathe again. Out from her frame, into this silent dimness, steps Anna of Cleves.'
And then begins a wonderfully bitchy disagreement between the women of Henry's Tudor court. They're all there, though Anne Boleyn may be the Infanta of Spain, since her painting is not signed, and Elizabeth refuses to recognise her. Anna, quiet and amenable as the real Anne Boleyn was not, at last declares that her strategy was the cleverest of them all. I won't spoil your fun by telling you more, but if you can get hold of this book, published in paperback 2009, do. It's a hoot. Paintings coming to life after hours when the museums are shut? Impossible! But imagine the conversations if they did! Charles I hanging opposite Oliver Cromwell! Mary Stuart next door to Elizabeth of England! And here, all the squabbling ladies connected to Henry VIII. Magic.
and a beautifully written hoot, too.

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