Friday 29 April 2016

His Last Mistress by Andrea Zuvich

As a novelist of this period, I looked forward to reading His Last Mistress with interest and anticipation. I am familiar with Lord Monmouth’s presence on the edge of my own research, and wanted to find out more about him from a dedicated historian I knew would have immersed herself in his life and shown it from his point of view.

Indeed, in this respect, I found the author’s love of history revealed itself in her attention to detail, including in the telling of some of the more distasteful or revolting aspects of the time, as well as the more pleasant. I’m a great believer in the truth, both sides of it. This element of the story was one I enjoyed.

Of Monmouth and Henrietta’s story, I won’t talk too much of that, except to say that details of their life together fascinated me. Monmouth’s love for Henrietta is a side of him I never picked up from my own research, and adds a softer side to an otherwise not very pleasant character. I previously knew nothing of Henrietta, so everything about her is fresh. She is very young, and her innocence might have been emphasised by spending a little more time getting to know her before they met.

Actually, the novella could well have been expanded into a full novel. I did feel credence couldn’t wholly be given to their strong love for each other by such brief initial encounters, and the story would have benefited by more early character development. Many of the events throughout also would have been improved by expansion and depth, to allow more immersion in them and get a better feel for them. Otherwise, I found the story fascinating, and feel I know the lives of these two better.

(The style of narration sometimes frustrated me, because the telling of factual details frequently overwhelms the telling of the story, especially in the dialogue. What did Chekhov say? ‘Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’ The story flows well, but would benefit from the eye of a good editor to tighten the narrative.)

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