Katherine by Anya Seton

In April and May hereabouts the weather is usually fine, albeit unpredictable, and we tend to think, “It’s going to be such a wonderful summer…” Then in June it rains, and we think, “What happened?” and wonder how we can fill our summer days.

I can tackle my TBR pile, review books and sort out my shelves; in fact, I must: my mother has several hundred books in a collection which has been whittled down from several thousand, and the only way I know to handle all the books that deserve reading, is to read them.

I am currently immersed in “Katherine” by Anya Seton which is the only book, lately, that has made me cry. I have to read it slowly, which is unusual for me, though the style and form make it difficult to speed-read. Dating from the 1950s, I thought it would be rather staid, but it’s surprisingly frank and engaging and it hits home in ways I scarcely expected it to, when I’m reading it late at night.

I am also loving the adventurous, based-on-true-life love story told well away from the harsh limelight of the Tudors, who look surprisingly spoilt when considering their prolific and adventurous antecedents, the Plantagenets. Though very occasionally, the tale leaks into gushing sentiment, the details with which Ms Seton fleshes out a scanty factual record, are engaging and really help to hold my interest. In my mind’s eye, I can see the wharfs where the Duke and his paramour stand together, I can feel the jolt of the horses they ride, the journeys Katherine undertakes and her splendid isolation in one of the Duke’s many castles.

I like a historical novel. Though “Katherine” is a big read and has taken me many days, yet I think it must rank as one of my favourite historical novels ever. Given the remoteness of the period and the reality that much of what is known about is overshadowed, written about in retrospect and with a rather caustic, politicised hindsight – high-born men simply did not marry their commoner mistresses! – I find myself rooting for John of Gaunt – of course! – and delighted utterly that finally, he and Katherine marry and they both live happily thereafter. Just like a fairy-tale.

I cannot, for the life of me, work out why this novel is not yet a film, nor why Katherine and John do not feature more widely in common myth, like Romeo and Juliet or even Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry the second of England. But that could simply be because I fell in love with the characters.

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