Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Godiva by Nerys Jones

GENRE: historical fiction

England, AD 1045. The Normans are circling, biding their time, ready to pounce on the English throne and wrest it away from the powerful Anglo-Saxon barons who grudgingly support Edward the Confessor, the childless, half-Norman ‘virgin king’. The royal court is a hotbed of rumour and political intrigue...everything hinges on the succession. Godiva, wife of Lovric, Earl of Mercia, is drawn into the machinations at court. When Edward manoeuvres their eldest son into a treasonable act, imprisons him and uses him as a pawn in his game play, Godiva’s ferocious maternal instincts rise to the fore and the urge to protect her family engulfs her. As the courtly scheming undermines Godiva’s hitherto solid marriage and drives her to despair and confusion, the stage is set for a story so powerful its impact has survived for a thousand years.

I really wanted to read this novel because I love historical novels and because I was familiar with the most famous legend about Lady Godiva. I love medieval legends about Lady Godiva, Robin Hood, Tristan and Isolde, and the Arthurian legends (Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin, etc.) However, the author came up with her own story about Godiva by incorporating all of the legend’s familiar elements into her novel in a different and unique way. It’s a fresh approach and I like it.

According to the legend I know, Godiva’s husband, earl Leofric (Lovric in the book), imposed heavy takes on the people of Coventry. Godiva felt sorry for the people, so she pleaded with her husband to remove the taxation. He would not do it, but she kept pleading with him and at last, he promised her to remove the new taxation if she rode naked on a horse through Coventry. He did not really believe she would do it, but Godiva was brave. She told the townspeople to shut their windows and not look as she rode naked on a horse through the town to save them and all people complied with the lady out of respect, except for a tanner, Tom, who became known as Peeping Tom. Afterwards, Godiva’s husband relented and removed the taxation, and Godiva’s bravery bore fruits.

Nerys Jones tackled the legend quite differently. She kept the naked ride, but changed its background. She put to the foreground the approaching Norman Conquest (the story takes place in 1045 and the conquest happened in 1066). King Edward the Confessor, who ruled England during that time, was half Norman and also had Norman friends and sympathisers. The Anglo-Saxon lords hated his Norman connection and also feared it. The author showed that the rule of the Anglo-Saxon lords was starting to approach its decline. So, in this novel, Godiva’s naked ride was a Norman design to humiliate and defeat a powerful Anglo-Saxon earl (Leofric, the earl of Mercia) and his lady (Godiva). At first, I was surprised that the author didn’t follow the famous legend, but her story actually works wonderfully and is also pretty believable.

I am not well familiar with the history of England before 1066, but what I do know appeared in the novel and was really well explained. In its core, the novel subtly shows and explains how the old Anglo-Saxon ways were gradually supplanted by the Norman culture. Christianity defeated paganism (the still-present belief in the Goddess, the Mother), Norman lords took away the lands of the Anglo-Saxon lords on the pretext of made-up treason, and so on. In this novel, the stage is set for the upcoming Norman Conquest and I think the author described this transition really well.

Godiva is a typical Anglo-Saxon lady of her time. In Anglo-Saxon times, noble ladies were almost equal to their husbands. They had their own lands, wealth and took care of estates while their husbands were away. They were free to make decisions and Godiva possesses all of these elements. She is happy with her husband and her marriage, and the trouble begins when the king chooses her family as his new target. I know very little about Edward the Confessor, but I loved his presentation in the novel. He is a very pious man, but his piety is both true and false at the same time. He is a deeply religious man, but he is also a bit sick in his head, in my opinion, as he likes to play dirty games with his subjects. He likes to tease the Anglo-Saxon lords and in the book, he chooses to tease Lovric and Godiva, first through their two sons, Alfgar and Harry, and then he picks on Godiva and Lovric individually. Edward’s game was sick, but brilliant, I have to confess. The character in this novel are really well presented, and so are their lives and their machinations.

The naked ride happens, of course, but I cannot say how exactly and I also cannot tell you the true reason for it. All I can say is, as I’ve said before, that this was basically a Norman ploy to defeat an Anglo-Saxon noble family. The story was really good and I very much enjoyed reading it.

I only have one complaint. There was not much swearing in the novel, but when curse words were present people used the f-word and all its f-ing cognates (allusion to a Hugh Laurie interview). So, I really don’t know much about the history of curse words, but I’m pretty sure the f-word was introduced much later. I may be wrong, but the use of the f-word made those passages anachronistic to me and its use annoyed me. Still, the novel as a whole is a great read, very insightful and entertaining.

If you like historical fiction, I recommend you read Godiva by Nerys Jones.



Laura @ A Jane of All Reads said...

Here I findz this for you:


Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Thanks for the link! The history of the f-word is actually very interesting.;)

Jan von Harz said...

Very detailed review. I am quite impressed with the information you provided about this book. I am going to check out the link provided about the F word too as I would tend to agree that its usage seems to be a later one than the time frame of this historical novel.

Unknown said...

I confess I am terribly ignorant when it comes to Lady Godiva. When I read the words naked ride, I swear my eye balls popped out my head. I may be English but my knowledge of this period in history is appalling. I may just have to buy this one. I love the depth of this review!

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

@Jan - I know, the f-word is so confusing.;) That link is great.

@Becky: Thanks! It's a great book. Godiva was a great lady. Hehe, yeah, the idea of a naked ride really hits you in the face.;)

Jen said...

thanks for reviewing this book. I just might have to read it. It sounds really interesting. hope all is well with you.

Blodeuedd said...

Now this is a book that I really would like to read.
But oh no, not the f word there, that would annoy me to death. I need a bit of historic accuracy

Nishant said...

The history of the f-word is actually very interesting.;)
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