Wednesday, April 26, 2006

My Mailbox Runneth Over

My mailbox has been full of historical fiction lately, putting me in the pleasant position of having too many books to choose from. One of the first I chose to read was Wendy J. Dunn's Dear Heart, How Like You This?, a novel about Anne Boleyn told by poet and diplomat Thomas Wyatt.

I've been thinking of reading this for quite a while, but something kept scaring me off--perhaps the Amazon reviewer who noted Wyatt's habit of using "Verily" to start his sentences. Verily, Wyatt does say "Verily" quite a bit, but this isn't particularly bothersome once one gets into the rhythm of the book.

Dear Heart tells the very familiar story of Anne Boleyn's rise and fall through the eyes of Wyatt, her devoted childhood companion who loves Anne hopelessly. Wyatt nonetheless takes a fairly clear-eyed, albeit partisan, view of her character and her situation, and he's sensitive enough to feel compassion for Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary as well. He's a likable narrator, whose lovesickness doesn't stop him from making pointed observations from time to time, and for all his poetic sensitivity he has his hard edges--at one point he beats his unfaithful wife, though of course he feels guilty about it. I was disappointed, in fact, that the novel ended shortly after the death of Anne Boleyn, having wanted to spend more time in Wyatt's company. The scenes between him and his aging father--evidently a very interesting character in his own day--are quite moving.

So what about Anne? In Dunn's version of events, Anne, determined to take revenge for the forced parting of herself and Henry Percy, sets out to break the king's heart, only to find herself unable to break away from the king without risking her own life and those of her family. That's all quite credible, and Anne, recognizing the role that her own folly has played in her fate, courageously accepts it. Unfortunately, in Wyatt's sympathetic company Anne tends to become lachrymose and hysterical, and too prone to reminiscing about her childhood. Though we see glimpses of the considerable charm and wit that she must have possessed, those qualities are somewhat muted here.

All in all, though, this is one of the most enjoyable novels about Anne Boleyn I've read. I was sorry to see it end.

7 comments:

Marg said...

I hear such wildly varied reviews of this book from loved it to hated it. I keep on thinking about reading it, but haven't got to it yet!

Susan Higginbotham said...

I found the first chapter pretty hard going--it keeps shifting back and forth between childhood vignettes and keeps changing writing styles. Once I got past it and the action started moving forward, things improved considerably.

Carla said...

That's an interesting observation. I very often find the first chapter is the worst part of the book. I'm beginning to wonder if I just don't like being 'hooked'.

This one sounds as if it's at least as much about Wyatt as about Anne - is that fair?

Sarah said...

More of a mixed reaction from me, I'm afraid. A good story overall, but I felt the language got in the way of the telling.

Carla - yes, I definitely agree, I always find the first chapter of any novel the hardest. I figure it's the language processors in my brain adjusting to a new writing style. After I finish a book, I often reread the first few pages and wonder why it was so difficult the first time.

Susan Higginbotham said...

I admit I could have done without the "verily's." And very strangely, the names of some of the French characters are italicized, as in Francois. Don't know whether this was just a typographical error or a conscious choice, but I found it distracting, more so than some of the language.

The book is mainly about the relationship bttween Wyatt and Anne, so in a sense it is about them equally. Wyatt does take center stage toward the middle of the novel, where he goes abroad and has some adventures.

I'm liking the novel a little less as I think about it, but I did find it an entertaining read on the whole.

Stephanie said...

Thanks for the review. I had been sort of turned off of this book too - for some reason I can't remember because I normally want to read this type of subject. Maybe I will give it a go now. :)

Susan Higginbotham said...

It's a good read. There's a nice scene between Henry VIII and his sister--nice to have someone tell off Henry for a change!