Friday, April 6, 2012
Book review: Gilt by Katherine Longshore
Gilt, the debut novel by author Katherine Longshore, tells the story of the rise and fall of Catherine "Cat" Howard, the fifth wife of King Henry VIII, from the point of view of her friend, Kitty Tylney. Kitty was a real person who grew up with Cat and accompanied her to court when she became queen, but not much is known about her, so the author imagines what her life might have been like. The two girls were raised together from the age of six in the household of the Duchess of Norfolk. Cat was always the beautiful, popular one, who ruled over all the girls in the household. Kitty was pretty much dependent on Cat and very passive, which was frustrating to read at times. I hated seeing Cat use her and wanted to yell at her to grow a backbone.
Cat, who had always loved attention and beautiful gowns and jewels, and wanted to marry a rich man who could give her everything she wanted, is thrilled to catch the attention of King Henry VIII, who soon marries her. But being Queen is not all that Cat hoped it would be. She's stuck with an old, overweight, smelly husband. Kitty can only watch as Cat destroys her life, and risks the lives of everyone in her household, by having an affair. Meanwhile, Kitty herself is in love with a man she isn't sure will ever love her back, while Cat tries to push her towards an affair with a man who is attractive but whom Kitty doesn't love. Cat was quite cruel to Kitty about this, and it was again hard to read. The rather one-sided friendship between Kitty and Cat is quite similar to the popular girls in high school today, who often use the less popular girls who are desperate to be friends with them. Cat's cruel personality and thoughtless actions made it extremely difficult to feel any sympathy for her, even thought she had been pushed into an unfair situation by her family and never should have been expected to marry a man so much older than her, who had her cousin Anne Boleyn, one of his previous wives, executed. Cat willfully made one bad choice after another without considering the consequences her actions could have, not just for herself but for others. Ultimately, I liked Kitty, I just wish she had taken charge of her own life much sooner and not allowed Cat to use her so much.
Despite my frustration with Cat's character (which may have been intended by the author) and the fact that some of the word choices in the dialogue were extremely modern, overall I thought Gilt was a solid debut novel and I would definitely read more by Katherine Longshore. I believe she is planning to continue this series with novels about other characters at the Tudor court and I definitely plan to try them. I think other readers who like me are fascinated by anything set in the Tudor era would enjoy this book, and because there's a lot of parallels to contemporary society in the story, readers who don't normally read a lot of historical fiction might enjoy the book as well.