Sunday, May 07, 2006

Another Book About Richard III, Plus a Not-So-Scruffy Dog




So what does my cairn terrier, Boswell, have to do with Richard III? Nothing, except that he went to the groomer the other day, and he looks so pretty, I wanted to post his picture before he reverts to his usual scruffy self.

Anyway, now that Isabella of France is not commandeering my computer, I thought I'd mention The Seventh Son, a historical novel by Reay Tannahill about Richard III, a figure without whom historical novelists would surely be lost. I'm happy to report I enjoyed this one better than most about this king.

Tannahill's novel picks up shortly after the battle of Tewkesbury, with Richard and his brother George fighting over the Warwick inheritance, and ends at Bosworth. It's written in a sardonic, somewhat emotionally detached style that may be off-putting to some readers but which I liked.

Richard III is portrayed by Tannahill as neither a villain nor a saint, but something in between--in other words, as a fallible human being. He marries Anne for her lands, not for love, but he's a faithful husband who eventually comes to love his wife and is devastated by her death. Though he governs fairly, he has a ruthless streak and has no qualms about taking the lands of the Countess of Oxford or about his mother-in-law's dispossession. He makes mistakes: Richard's act of executing Hastings without trial on very flimsy grounds engenders distrust and hostility that haunt Richard throughout his reign, ultimately leading to his defeat at Bosworth.

Anne Neville is attractively portrayed as a resilient young woman with a backbone and opinions of her own. The episode where she works as a kitchen maid, pure melodrama in the hands of some novelists, is almost farcical here--Anne, seeing Richard come to rescue her, does not swoon or burst into tears of relief, but tidies her hair. She has a sense of humor, which Richard does not always appreciate. ("'Two more bastards?'" she asks when Richard, having already invited his out-of-wedlock children to spend Christmas at court, proposes to invite his nieces as well.) Her death scene is moving without being maudlin.

The Woodvilles are their usual villainous selves, but at least they're villains with a sense of style. ("'Dear me. I will have to think of something else,'" says Elizabeth Woodville when Richard tells her he always checks his food for poison.) With a few exceptions, such as Richard's friend Francis Lovell, a major character with a well developed personality, most of the other characters are sketched in, but they're vivid sketches. I liked this sentence in particular, uttered by Edward IV's womanizing friend about Jane Shore: "'Lovely woman,' sighed Lord Hastings, doggy-eyed."

For those of us who like author's notes, Tannahill provides a long one, including a section on further reading.

So, a cute doggy picture and another book about Richard III. What more could one ask for in blogland?

7 comments:

Alianore said...

Oh, he's so cuuuuuute!! (Boswell obviously, not Richard III.)

I've only flicked through this one, myself - it's on my TBR list - but I like what I've seen. There's a lot of humour in it, which appeals to me, and which you don't always see in historical fiction.

It's also refreshing that Richard and Anne's relationship is not portrayed as a great love affair, as it is in just about every other novel I've seen on Richard III.

Nice to see that Anne isn't pathetic here, as she usually is - I quite enjoyed Sandra Worth's 'Love and War' but sheesh, how often does Anne faint or swoon?

Marg said...

Maybe I read this one too close to Sunne in Splendour because I really didn't like it. Found it really flat adn much too like hard work to read. Maybe I will give it another go one day.

Sarah said...

The humor was one thing I liked about Seventh Son. That, and Anne Neville's character, since she's not a lovesick wimp for a change. (I haven't read every novel written about her, but that seems to be pretty common.) I don't recall caring for Tannahill's version of Richard nearly as much, though. My favorite of hers is The World, The Flesh, and the Devil, with Passing Glory a close second.

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

I agree with Marg on this one. I found it rather disjointed and not up to Tannahill's usual standard. I've read several of hers and enjoyed them better. I kept thinking that it should have been a much longer novel - as if she was keeping an eye on the word count and trimming so close to the bone that there wasn't enough meat. I'd like to have seen more scenes. I didn't finish Seventh Son, although I did read past half way.

Susan Higginbotham said...

It's one of those books that people either like a great deal or don't like at all, I think. The style is quite spare. I did like the humor very much.

I've got Fatal Majesty in my TBR pile as soon as my husband finishes it. I haven't run into any of her other books.

Carla said...

I think it suffers if read too close to a more romantic treatment of Richard and Anne. I liked it for the dry humour and lack of sentimentality. If I remember correctly, the kitchenmaid incident has Anne in the kitchen of a helpless lady friend showing the cook how to make almond milk for a sick child, and it later becomes a private joke between Anne and Richard that she can always earn a living as a kitchenmaid again. Quite a contrast with the rather Gothic treatment the incident sometimes receives!

Susan Higginbotham said...

Oh yes, I've seen novels where poor Anne practically has to be hauled out of the cookshop on a stretcher! I liked the treatment of Richard and Anne here, as a couple who married for pragmatic reasons but who grew to love each other, much more appealing than the usual childhood-sweethearts-separated-and then-reunited-by-fate scenario.