06 February 2009

Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper

Flap Copy from ARC:
"Elizabethan beauty Anne Whateley records intimate details of her dangerous, daring life and her great love, William Shakespeare. As historical records show, Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton is betrothed to Will just days before he is forced to wed the pregnant Anne Hathaway. The secret Whateley-Shakespeare match is a meeting of heards and minds that no one - not even Queen Elizabeth or her spymasters - can destroy. Often at odds, always in love, the couple sells Will's first plays, and as he climbs to theatrical power in England, they fight off fierce competition from other London dramatists, some as treacherous as they are talented. Persecution and plague, insurrection and inferno, friends and foes, even executions of those they hold dear, bring Anne's heartrending story to life."

I thoroughly enjoyed this retelling of the story of Shakespeare in love, though I'm not sure what (if any) historical truths the novel actually contains. I have always been fascinated, though, by the mysteries surrounding much of Shakespeare's life -- though his writing is so widely studied and appreciated, details of his life story are murky and patchy at best.

Harper's book is primarily a love story, chronicling the lifelong see-saw of feelings between Anne Whately and Will Shakespeare. Anne is a strong and independent woman -- it's a little disappointing, then, that she so completely devotes herself to a man whose affections come and go with the ever-changing political and social scene. Shakespeare is presented as a flawed man with a burgeoning genius talent, a man who never quite understands how his writing and behavior have affected the two women in his life.

Harper's writing is entertaining and for the most part well-crafted - the only times I felt the story floundered occurred when the characters slipped into poorly executed period speak. Because these moments stunted the narrative, I'm giving the book 3.5 stars, but I definitely recommend it for anyone who enjoys Elizabethan history.

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