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February 2009: Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower

A monthly discussion on varying themes guided by our members. (Book of the Month discussions through December 2011 can be found in this section too.)
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boswellbaxter
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Post by boswellbaxter » Thu February 5th, 2009, 9:31 pm

[quote=""Susan""]I did like the exposition of the plot, but I thought the book got weaker as it went on. I did like the Bayeux Tapestry part, but the romance (actually the lust) of Odo and Gytha bored me. I wanted to know more about the embroiderers and was upset when their stories were put on the back burner. There was way too much of Odo and Gytha rolling around in bed and not enough substance to their romance. I didn't dislike the book, but I was somewhat disappointed.[/quote]

Think I'll probably pass for this reason. If I wanted bedroom antics, I'd read a historical romance!
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Susan
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Post by Susan » Fri February 6th, 2009, 1:51 am

[quote=""boswellbaxter""]Think I'll probably pass for this reason. If I wanted bedroom antics, I'd read a historical romance![/quote]

It probably doesn't have as much bedroom antics as a romance novel. I think what bothered me is that the relationship seemed more lust than love, especially at first. I expected a book about the Bayeux Tapestry and that part of the plot was ignored for long periods. I liked Odo and Gytha separately as characters, but had trouble with them as a couple. I also really liked the character of Sister Agatha, Odo's (fictional) sister and wanted to see her more. I'm glad I read the book and I do think it is worth reading, but I guess it didn't meet all of my (misguided?) expectations.
Last edited by Susan on Fri February 6th, 2009, 1:54 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Leo62
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Post by Leo62 » Mon February 9th, 2009, 12:50 pm

[quote=""Susan""]It probably doesn't have as much bedroom antics as a romance novel. I think what bothered me is that the relationship seemed more lust than love, especially at first. I expected a book about the Bayeux Tapestry and that part of the plot was ignored for long periods. I liked Odo and Gytha separately as characters, but had trouble with them as a couple. I also really liked the character of Sister Agatha, Odo's (fictional) sister and wanted to see her more. I'm glad I read the book and I do think it is worth reading, but I guess it didn't meet all of my (misguided?) expectations.[/quote]

I agree with all of this. However my main problem wasn't the bonking as such, it was the lack of development in the relationship. I was convinced by their attraction, but not that they loved each other. The book sagged badly in the middle, with some spurious plot-turns and a few missed opportunities. The tapestry & interesting sub-plots were semi-abandoned, as Susan points out, which was very frustrating.

My feeling is this book (I believe it was a first novel) needed a good editor and didn't get one. With some wise editorial input, some of the plot points could have been better worked out, which I think would have had a beneficial knock-on effect on characterisation.

As a side-bar: Was anyone else who read this disturbed that she implied that the character who was raped enjoyed the experience?

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Post by EC2 » Mon February 9th, 2009, 1:00 pm

I loved the use of language in TNITB. I thought in places it was reminiscent of Dorothy Dunnett. Sarah Bower has the ability to paint with words. But this did make for a very slow read and in small quantities. It's like best bitter chocolate or strong blue cheese. A very little goes a long way, even if it is delicious.
I wasn't convinced this was 1066 though. There are numerous historical errors and I didn't much believe in the characters either. However, if I transferred them to a mythical setting and imagined that it was some kind of chanson de Geste, I was able to cope much better. There is a lot of mythology and its leit motifs within this book. Don't look for historical veracity because it's not there.

Leo, I don't remember the 'rape' scene as such, but I was never convinced about the relationship between Odo and Gytha. Again, it seemed like something out of a distant fairytale rather than involving 'real' people.

I did enjoy this book - for the language as I said above, but it's not 11thC history as I know it.
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

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Misfit
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Post by Misfit » Mon February 9th, 2009, 2:17 pm

As a side-bar: Was anyone else who read this disturbed that she implied that the character who was raped enjoyed the experience?
This was a DNF for me. Part of it I suspect that it was too close to reading Harold the King and Guildenford - I needed to get into another period. Worse though was the violence towards Gytha and the language used. Sure, that's probably how it was, although I still felt I was being clubbed over the head with it.

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Leo62
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Post by Leo62 » Mon February 9th, 2009, 2:53 pm

Margaret was raped, not Gytha. Overall, this didn't feel to me like a book that gloried in violence against women. It had an earthiness that felt convincing for the period (EC2 - I take your point about it being inaccurate, but in terms of colour and atmosphere it felt very "right"), however the comment about Margaret enjoying the rape was kinda thrown in then not really followed up - it bugged me.

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Misfit
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Post by Misfit » Mon February 9th, 2009, 2:54 pm

[quote=""Leo62""]Margaret was raped, not Gytha. Overall, this didn't feel to me like a book that gloried in violence against women. It had an earthiness that felt convincing for the period (EC2 - I take your point about it being inaccurate, but in terms of colour and atmosphere it felt very "right"), however the comment about Margaret enjoying the rape was kinda thrown in then not really followed up - it bugged me.[/quote]

Thanks, it's been almost a year since I started it and all I really recall is the violence and the language threw me out of the story very quickly.

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EC2
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Post by EC2 » Mon February 9th, 2009, 3:04 pm

[quote=""Leo62""]Margaret was raped, not Gytha. Overall, this didn't feel to me like a book that gloried in violence against women. It had an earthiness that felt convincing for the period (EC2 - I take your point about it being inaccurate, but in terms of colour and atmosphere it felt very "right"), however the comment about Margaret enjoying the rape was kinda thrown in then not really followed up - it bugged me.[/quote]

Like Misfit, it's a while since I read it, so the specifics have become hazy. I don't even remember the Margaret incident - but then my goldfish memory often swims off into the weeds! :rolleyes:
It didn't feel right to me in terms of colour and atmosphere. The only way I could get it to feel right was by imagining it as a much later period illuminated book of hours - like a Jean Duc de Berry piece. I guess this is where it boils down to what the reader brings to the book and sees inside his/her head. All the stuff about sewing in a room filled with glass windows immediately gave me a sense of illumination and light and made the piece feel much later in period because such a room would never have existed in the 11thC. All the descriptions were like the bold, solid colours in a manuscript and this drove it later for me too.
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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Leo62
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Post by Leo62 » Mon February 9th, 2009, 3:17 pm

[quote=""EC2""]All the stuff about sewing in a room filled with glass windows immediately gave me a sense of illumination and light and made the piece feel much later in period because such a room would never have existed in the 11thC. [/quote]
I did wonder about that. It seemed such a bold thing to include, and so vividly imagined, that I assumed it must be true! :rolleyes:

Oh well. Myth 1 - History 0. Again. :D

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EC2
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Post by EC2 » Mon February 9th, 2009, 3:30 pm

[quote=""Leo62""]I did wonder about that. It seemed such a bold thing to include, and so vividly imagined, that I assumed it must be true! :rolleyes:

Oh well. Myth 1 - History 0. Again. :D [/quote]

I guess that was why I kept seeing it in 'fairytale' terms rather than straight historical ones. Sarah Bower herself says that she used a lot of mythology in the story and that she wanted it to have that sort of feel - and I think she succeeded. It gives that sort of 'maidens in a bower' feel in hindsight.
Glass was a rare and expensive commodity for the medieval period. You're just about getting it in domestic windows a hundred years later and then in little bits surrounded by lead frameworks. People were known to take the glass with them when they moved house it was that special! Rooms of sparkling glass light weren't feasible circa 1066. In fact when you look around medieval ruins, rooms with that amount of glass don't seem to be known throughout the entire period - unless I've missed something fundamental. I suppose the author may have known this, but wanted to use such a setting as a deliberate motif - I don't know.
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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