Monday, May 18, 2015

A Dense Historical Tale of Murder, Incest, and Ambition

Source: Author Website
Wideacre by Philippa Gregory (1987; Touchstone, 2003, 656pp.)

Set in 1772 England, devious, sensual Beatrice Lacey dominates this finely detailed historical drama of unbridled lust and ambition. Throughout childhood and adolescence, Beatrice’s only desire has been to live out her days on Wideacre, her family’s lush country estate—though thanks to the law of primogeniture (first-born son or closest male relative gets everything), she is barred from inheriting it. Instead, it will go to Harry, her buffoon brother who stands to become the next Squire at their father’s death, while she will be sent away from her beloved land at marriage. Yet mere legal ramifications won’t stop Beatrice. As she vows to fight conventional society and get what she wants, she and her loved ones become entangled in a dangerous web of deceit, manipulation, and murder that threatens to destroy them all.

Wideacre, Gregory’s debut novel from 1987, has many elements found in her later books: intimate historical detail, an intriguing plot, and steamy romance that all make excellent fare for middlebrow readers. (In other words, you can read her for the sex scenes, while legitimately claiming that you're just interested in the history.)

Yet it’s also a very strange book, and definitely not for everyone. It can be a little slow at times, but really picks up towards the end. Some people also may find Beatrice hard to identify with. She’s a very complex character, loving, loyal, and kind in one minute, cruel, vain, and ruthless the next. They might also might be extremely uncomfortable with the incestuous passion that Beatrice shares with her brother, Harry—a relationship which results in two children. And it's not really the kind of accidental sibling romance that you might find in Flowers in the Attic. It’s more of a kinky/S&M/“I hope no one looks over my shoulder to ask what I’m reading” sort of thing. Still, for anyone who has the time or the desire to try something different, have at it! Recommended for fans of Philippa’s more popular work, The Other Boleyn Girl, and for readers of more unconventional literature.

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