5 / 5 Stars
A beautifully bawdy feminist romp - part period drama, part post-modernist mayhem. Loved it.
Ah. You can't beat a lively period novel, complete with a cast of memorable (and occasionally vile) characters and bawdy goings-on. Most of the best ones tend to be written several hundred years ago, yet here we are with a 21st century novel that fits right in amongst them. However, despite its strong mark of period authenticity, it manages to feel wonderfully fresh and feisty.
Ursula Flight is a wilful, gutsy child. Daughter of a parochial lord of the manor, she spends her time getting muddy in woods and putting on plays with the local kids. As a teen, her heart is stolen by the handsome Samuel, but her romantic notions are thwarted when she's told she must marry Lord Tyringham. He's rich, but unfortunately also smelly, bog-eyed and boring as hell.
Ursula, not the sort to be cursed to a life of tedium, soon sets about making her own fun - especially when she meets up with Samuel again at court. Think this is a predictable love story where the woman gets her man? Think again. This book has a delightfully strong, feminist conclusion and the message is 100% clear - Ursula needs no man to 'complete her'. Hooray!
There was so much to love about this book. It's clearly well-researched, because (as far as I can tell, and I'm fairly up on UK history, plus history of the theatres) it's all pretty accurate and this gives it the winning note of authenticity.
Against this convincing backdrop, the author has created a wonderful array of characters. Ursula herself is a delight - unapologetically bold and gutsy, occasionally impudent, and wonderfully ambitious. Lord Tyringham is repulsive and also quite amusing at times; as is Samuel (though for quite different reasons). As for Sebeliah, Lord Tyringham's hypochondriac sister? Hilariously watery and insipid.
However, despite all the liveliness and good humour, there are some serious issues explored here. Ursula's marriage to a man much older than herself is quite painful in places - not least her having to submit sexually to him. After all, this was a regular occurrence for women back then, which when you stop and think about it, sucked massively. The other struggles that females must have faced are also illustrated well - being unable to find employment, being considered a 'fallen women' without a man to look after you, being objectified at every opportunity... the list goes on.
Just to emphasise, this is not a man-hating book. Yes, Ursula's husband and lover are bad 'uns; but her father is portrayed as a wonderfully progressive type, who takes the time to educate her. There are others that also treat her with the respect she deserves. So it's shown evenly - there's no man-bashing going on here.
Overall, a brilliantly entertaining read. I really enjoyed it.