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In the middle ages, a poet told a story that mocked a strong woman. It became a literary classic. But what if the woman in question had a chance to tell her own version? Who would you believe?
'Brooks' mischievous retelling [of Chaucer's The Wife of Bath] dials up the feminist themes - and the fun - to 11.' The Canberra Times
England, The Year of Our Lord, 1364
When married off aged 12 to an elderly farmer, Eleanor Cornfed, who's constantly told to seek redemption for her many sins, quickly realises it won't matter what she says or does, God is not on her side - or any poor woman's for that matter.
But Eleanor was born under the joint signs of Venus and Mars. Both a lover and a fighter, she will not bow meekly to fate. Even if five marriages, several pilgrimages, many lovers, violence, mayhem and wildly divergent fortunes (that swoop up and down as if spinning on Fortuna's Wheel itself) do not for a peaceful life make.
Aided and abetted by her trusty god-sibling Alyson, the counsel of one Geoffrey Chaucer, and a good head for business, Eleanor fights to protect those she loves from the vagaries of life, the character deficits of her many husbands, the brutalities of medieval England and her own fatal flaw... a lusty appreciation of mankind. All while continuing to pursue the one thing all women want - control of their own lives.
This funny, picaresque, clever retelling of Chaucer's 'Wife of Bath' from The Canterbury Tales is a cutting assessment of what happens when male power is left to run unchecked, as well as a recasting of a literary classic that gives a maligned character her own voice, and allows her to tell her own (mostly) true story.
'Astonishingly good - an instant classic. Certes 'tis a tale for everywoman.' Tea Cooper, Bestselling International Author
Buy The Good Wife of Bath: A (Mostly) True Story by Karen Brooks from Australia's Online Independent Bookstore, Boomerang Books.
Book DetailsISBN: 9781489277466
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Book Review: The Good Wife of Bath: A (Mostly) True Story by Karen Brooks - Reviewed by CloggieA (19 Jul 2021)
5 stars The Good Wife of Bath: A (Mostly) True Story is the fourteenth book by Australian author, Karen Brooks. Motherless from birth and fatherless by age ten, Eleanor Cornfed is put into service at Noke Manor. By twelve, subsequent to an incident that might have seen her maligned and cast out, she finds herself in an arranged marriage to sixty-one-year-old, Fulk Bigod, a smelly, despised and avoided local wool grower about whom rumours of cruelty and murder abound. And if her first impression of his farm is a negative one, and her reception from his daughter Alyson is chilly, Eleanor is puzzled to discover the real man.
With that introduction to her story, most readers will be hooked. Eleanor is easily likeable and the reader is soon cheering her on, sympathising with her losses and celebrating her triumphs. The loyalty of her friends and employees becomes easily understandable. We follow her journey through marriage (five times), friendship, good fortune and difficult times (that include natural disasters and plague), widowhood (several times, the first at age seventeen) and beyond.
Eleanor certainly does find herself married to a variety of men: one whose gruffness and grubbiness belies his genuine goodness; one whose greed presents a challenge; one whose proposal is strictly business; a womaniser; and one who is free with his fists. Two of her husbands die from natural causes, two are murdered, and the fate of one would be a spoiler if revealed.
Her resilience is perhaps a product of her early childhood, a father who counsels: “You have to create opportunities where you can. No matter what life hurls at you, child, catch it. If it’s shit, turn it into fertiliser. If it’s insults, throw them back. Grip opportunity with both hands and ride it like a wild colt until you’ve tamed it. You’ve come from nothing, and unless you make something of yourself with what you’re offered, it’s to nothing you’ll return.”
The setting, fourteenth Century England, Rome, Cologne, and Jerusalem is of course utterly fascinating, and the level of historical detail is evidence of the author’s extensive research. The narrative, both directly, and in the form of letters, is exclusively Eleanor’s, so it her perspective of world events, her impression of a number of historical figures, including Geoffrey Chaucer, that is presented here. And as this is a version of his tale, Chaucer plays a significant role.
When Eleanor learns of his Wife of Bath Tale, her sense of betrayal (“Or is that what writers did? Sacrifice their friends, make public their secrets and desires, their innermost fears, all for personal gain?”) leads to a period of estrangement between the friends.
Eleanor begins her tale with “when my story is complete, you can judge for yourself whose version you prefer: the loud, much-married, lusty woman dressed in scarlet who travelled the world in order to pray at all the important shrines yet learned nothing of humility, questioned divinity, boasted of her conquests and deceits, and demanded mastery over men. Or the imperfect child who grew into an imperfect woman –experienced, foolish and clever too –oft at the same time. Thrice broken, twice betrayed, once murdered and once a murderer, who mended herself time after time and rose to live again in stories and in truth –mostly. All this despite five bloody husbands. All this, despite the damn Poet.”
Eleanor gives her version of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath tale and, while it might give a helpful background to have read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in her Introduction, the author gives sufficient information, so it is not in any way necessary for the enjoyment of Eleanor’s story. And, prefacing each section, the relevant portion of verse is reproduced.
Even in the fourteenth century, Brooks gives Eleanor a feminist voice: “Denied access to learning, to knowledge, and treated like children at best, property at worst, women were deemed weak and incapable. It still caused me great consternation. As I’d said to Geoffrey, if we females could but exercise our minds as we did our bodies, then we could give birth not just to babes, but ideas, and be valued for more than our queyntes and our wombs.” Brilliant historical fiction. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and HQ Fiction.
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