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The King's Mistress by Emma Campion

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Miss Moppet
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Post by Miss Moppet » Thu April 22nd, 2010, 6:18 pm

[quote=""Leo62""]
Yes, I'd hate to have to rush this book. The slowness is part of the charm IMO. You could always take it back late if you can bear the fine (shouldn't say that really being an ex-librarian but still... ;) )[/quote]

I did consider buying it as it's only £4.89 from Amazon but I am trying not to buy books. It may be for the best that I have to get through it fairly quickly as otherwise I can see myself putting it down and not picking it up. And I've got too many unfinished books lying around at the moment. I want to finish something!

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Leo62
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Post by Leo62 » Fri April 23rd, 2010, 2:06 pm

On p.148

The theme that seems to be emerging is how Alice, the central character, ends up getting used and manipulated by the people around her. This makes her seem passive, and in some ways she is, but what makes her engaging is her struggle to get some kind of control over her destiny.

The female characters are definitely coming out stronger in this story - Alice's horrible mother, Queen Isabella in her black leather and obsidian!

One thing I noticed that was a bit weird; the author spends ages describing Alice's two horses and her hawk, then only devotes about three sentences to the birth of her first child!
listen:there's a hell
of a good universe next door;let's go
ee cummings

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Miss Moppet
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Post by Miss Moppet » Fri April 23rd, 2010, 3:28 pm

[quote=""Leo62""]

One thing I noticed that was a bit weird; the author spends ages describing Alice's two horses and her hawk, then only devotes about three sentences to the birth of her first child![/quote]

Mmm...I wonder if she did lots of research on riding and falconry and then wanted to get it all in!

You're slightly ahead of me now. Hope to read another chunk tonight.

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On page 178

Post by Miss Moppet » Sat April 24th, 2010, 12:39 pm

Now finished part one and a third of the way through the book.

Alice is starting to interest me slightly more, because:

1. Despite supposedly being happily married she feels attracted to the King.

2. She has been commanded to become a lady in waiting to Queen Philippa and doesn't want to do it. I've got every sympathy as I wouldn't want to do it either. Frances Burney, appointed to Queen Charlotte's household in the C18, felt the same - yes, it's a great honour, but you are totally at their beck and call.

I have to wonder if things really happened like this. I don't know a thing about Alice Perrers (would definitely like to follow up some of the books in the bibliography) but here's it's stated that the Queen Mother and Alice's husband decide that she should become a lady in waiting to the Queen. I think what's far more likely is that the King liked the look of her and arranged the appointment (as Barbara Castlemaine was appointed lady in waiting to Catherine of Braganza, for example, much against Catherine's will). But Emma Campion continues her revisionist approach by presenting Alice as devoid of ambition (although not business sense) and also distancing her from her husband, suggesting they drew apart before her relationship with the King began.

I feel the characterisation remains pretty shallow but the style is improving and flowing better than in the early chapters.

Question: did 14th century kings really wear their crowns on a day-to-day basis?

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Post by Leo62 » Sat April 24th, 2010, 1:53 pm

[quote=""Miss Moppet""]Now finished part one and a third of the way through the book.[/quote]
We seem to be maintaining an identical pace - I'm on p181!

I'm enjoying the emerging ambivalence in Alice and Janyn's marriage, the sense of their relationship being slowly poisoned by secrets...and the insidious presence of Isabella in the background.

[quote=""Miss Moppet""]Alice is starting to interest me slightly more, because:

1. Despite supposedly being happily married she feels attracted to the King.[/quote]
This didn't seem quite convincing to me. I can see why the king would fancy a bit of younger totty, but what is the attraction for Alice in a *much* older man - especially if, as we're told, she isn't particularly ambitious or dazzled by power. We are led to assume it's his personal charisma...and I'm not quite sure I buy that.

[quote=""Miss Moppet""]2. She has been commanded to become a lady in waiting to Queen Philippa and doesn't want to do it. I've got every sympathy as I wouldn't want to do it either. Frances Burney, appointed to Queen Charlotte's household in the C18, felt the same - yes, it's a great honour, but you are totally at their beck and call.[/quote]
Yeah I wouldn't want to do it either! This is one of the strengths of this book for me - Alice's continual struggle to have some control over her life, which is then undermined by her well-meaning but totally condescending husband. Of course, his making the decision for her, without even consulting her, was probably par-for-the-course medieval hubby behaviour...

[quote=""Miss Moppet""]Question: did 14th century kings really wear their crowns on a day-to-day basis?[/quote]
I thought that. It seemed odd and clunky, like it was an artificial device to identify him as the king.


One other thing that isn't sitting quite right with me - the story opens in 1355, only 6 or 7 years after the Black Death, yet it is never mentioned. This would have been a defining event in Alice's childhood (she would have been about 8), and the social, psychological and physical after-effects would surely have been more obvious at this time - labour shortages, abandoned houses, collective fear and trama. Where is it all??
listen:there's a hell
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ee cummings

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Post by Miss Moppet » Sat April 24th, 2010, 5:21 pm

[quote=""Leo62""]
This didn't seem quite convincing to me. I can see why the king would fancy a bit of younger totty, but what is the attraction for Alice in a *much* older man - especially if, as we're told, she isn't particularly ambitious or dazzled by power. We are led to assume it's his personal charisma...and I'm not quite sure I buy that.[/quote]

Maybe, with the tension between Alice's parents, Campion is suggesting she has daddy issues and so a father figure might appeal. After all, her husband is much older than her too. She doesn't seem to be attracted to men of her own age (like Geoffrey Chaucer) at least not so far.
Leo62 wrote:One other thing that isn't sitting quite right with me - the story opens in 1355, only 6 or 7 years after the Black Death, yet it is never mentioned. This would have been a defining event in Alice's childhood (she would have been about 8), and the social, psychological and physical after-effects would surely have been more obvious at this time - labour shortages, abandoned houses, collective fear and trama. Where is it all??
I never thought of that and you're absolutely right. There's a mention of the Dance of Death on the chapel wall and that's it.

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Post by EC2 » Sat April 24th, 2010, 5:31 pm

Thanks for this exchange. I am finding it fascinating even if I'm not participating. Keep it coming!
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

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Post by Leo62 » Sat April 24th, 2010, 9:36 pm

[quote=""Miss Moppet""]Maybe, with the tension between Alice's parents, Campion is suggesting she has daddy issues and so a father figure might appeal. After all, her husband is much older than her too. She doesn't seem to be attracted to men of her own age (like Geoffrey Chaucer) at least not so far.
[/quote]
Of course - daddy fixation - duh! Don't know how I missed that. :D

The book opens with a lot of description about her childhood relationship with her father, and how she kind of "lost" him to her mother as she reached puberty...so it makes perfect psychological sense that she's trying to find him again through the men in her life.

EC - it is worth a read; despite all the caveats I'm finding it very absorbing.
listen:there's a hell
of a good universe next door;let's go
ee cummings

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EC2
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Post by EC2 » Sat April 24th, 2010, 9:44 pm

[quote=""Leo62""]O

EC - it is worth a read; despite all the caveats I'm finding it very absorbing.[/quote]

Well I have it in ARC manuscript form, so when I've done some weight lifting to build up my muscles, I'll give it a go! :D Seriously, I will get around to it when the muse strikes combined with having time to give it full attention.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

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On page 222 - long rant follows plus major spoilers

Post by Miss Moppet » Sun April 25th, 2010, 8:11 pm

These are the problems I am having with the book at this point:

1. The balance of narration to dramatisation. I've never been convinced that writers should always 'show not tell' because it implies that dramatising a scene is ALWAYS preferable to narrating it whereas the truth is, if you dramatised every single thing that has to happen to your protagonist, you'd have the world's longest book, and probably one of the most tedious. Everyone has to use narration sometimes, and many writers (Susan Howatch, Donna Tartt, Patricia Highsmith) can write extremely compelling narrative. But with this book, I'm constantly frustrated because most of it is narrative with only little bits of action, never enough to properly develop the characters. For example: Alice's relationship with the Queen and the ladies-in-waiting. I'd have liked to see the Queen's appreciation of her knowledge, and the ladies' consequent hostility, expressed in one scene. Same with Alice and the King. At one point Alice goes riding with King Edward and the French King Jean, and it's really not made very much of at all. Wouldn't it go to her head to find herself in a situation like that? It gets passed over so quickly. I want less about Troilus and Cressida, less of what Alice is wearing, less about her dreams, and more action and character development.

2. I really, really get the sense of the author thinking all the time, 'how can I explain this so Alice doesn't look too bad?' For example, it's Queen Philippa who decides that Alice should ride out with the King. Why? Has she really not noticed that the King likes Alice? Or maybe she HAS noticed and thinks Alice will keep the king occupied and be less of a threat than a noble mistress because she's of low birth. It's not at all clear what their relationship is: one minute Alice resents Philippa for ignoring her wishes and treating her like a child, next minute she is thinking of her as 'beloved Queen Philippa.' Considering she never wanted to come to court in the first place I think she would be quite resentful of Philippa by this time.

Another example: Alice is upset that her daughter is being brought up in the Scottish royal household. Would a medieval mother really think like this? I think again it's the author thinking, 'I must explain why Alice let her daughter be brought up by someone else, it makes her look like a bad mother' forgetting that at this time entrusting your child to a higher ranking household where they would make a better marriage eventually was being a GOOD mother. There's no need for this nonsense about Bella having to be protected. Why would she be safer in Scotland than at the English court anyway?

3. All the cloak and dagger stuff. Again I think this is about exculpating Alice. It's okay for her to become a royal mistress because her husband has left her. I think it's a bad choice because it avoids conflict between the characters, and also because the plot makes no sense. Apparently Alice's in-laws were helping to conceal the existence of the She-Wolf's supposedly dead husband, who isn't dead after all. This puts them in great danger. From who?? It's not the Royal Family because they are protecting Alice. But they actually have the most incentive to put the old King out of the way. If they're not the enemy, who is? Who is after Alice's husband and mother-in-law? Why are they in danger, but not her father-in-law? Why does the woman spying on Alice follow her all the way from court instead of just finding her there? Why is the church mysteriously empty? If I thought there were going to be some interesting and convincing answers to these questions I'd be enthralled, but at the moment it all just seems contrived and silly.

On the plus side, I'm enjoying some of the scenes at court. Alice's religion feels authentic (although I'm surprised a confessor would brew up a love potion). But mostly I'm frustrated because I feel the legitimate relationships between the characters are being ignored in favour of a sub-plot which doesn't actually work.

What is this business about Alice pretending to be the daughter of Sir Robert Perrers? Is there really some doubt about her identity and whether she came from the merchant class or the nobility?

Oh, and the chapters are too long.

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