Friday, June 14, 2013

GILT


Review of GILT by KATHERINE LONGSHORE
(review based on an advance reading copy)

I enjoy a good historical fiction book now and again (including historical fantasy) and find myself particularly intrigued by Henry VIII and his six wives. (Book sales suggest I’m hardly the only one.) Nevertheless, I always approach Henry VIII novels with some hesitancy. I already know the history and I’ve read numerous stories in the same vein. What’s different about this one?

For anyone wondering that exact question about GILT, let me assure you that it distinguishes itself enough from the plethora of similar historical fiction. For starters, GILT follows Catherine Howard’s rise and fall whereas Anne Boleyn tends to be the most frequently fictionalized of Henry’s wives. Longshore also tells Cat’s story once removed, through the eyes of her friend Kitty (Katherine Tylney). I’m pleased to say that GILT remains very much Kitty’s story; she’s not merely a passive lens through which we watch Cat.

Women’s roles in this time and place take center stage among the book’s themes. Early on, Kitty witnesses a rape, an experience that haunts her ever afterwards. She resents herself for not trying to help the woman, though the reader knows perfectly well that would have amounted to Kitty’s death and/or rape as well. Kitty internalizes that experience as representative of her control as a woman and in almost every subsequent climatic moment in her life I could feel that image hovering over her. (Sidenote: GILT really is a fantastic title.)

Longshore also does a brilliant job emphasizing Kitty and Cat’s youth, something that I feel many such novels gloss over. Catherine was somewhere between 15-19 when she married the almost fifty-year-old Henry VIII and Longshore portrays her as a vivacious but reckless girl who sees immediate gains more than possible consequences. Kitty, among others, serves as Cat’s voice of reason, not that her friend will listen.

Longshore revitalizes an arguably stale historical obsession with wonderful, real characters and a marvelous voice that pulls you right into the story. I can’t wait to read whatever she writes next!

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