Sunday Afternoon Reads: "The Queen's Fool" by Philippa Gregory

When flicking through my bookshelf (one set of bookshelves at the moment, multiple layers deep) in order to find a suitable book that incorporated the Jewish faith, I was surprised at how many options I had. Going through them however left me less than satisfied... "The Diary of Anne Frank" seemed too obvious, Tim Kirk's "Nazi Germany" while fascinating was slightly more graphic and in depth than I wanted to go. "The Queen's Fool" it was! If you've only read "The Other Boleyn Girl", this choice may come as a surprise to you. Billed as the sequel to Philippa Gregory's most infamous novel, it continues the story of the rivalry between two half-sisters (Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I) as seen through the eyes of Hannah the Spaniard, Hannah the Holy Fool, Hannah the Jew.
Sitting as we do in in the year 2009, Jewish persecution brings to mind the atrocities of the holocaust in Nazi Germany or (depending on your politico-spiritual proclivities) the continuation of war going on in the Middle Eastern - Israeli arena. We forget the persecution of Jews throughout time and events like the Spanish Inquisition, people burned at the stake purely for believing that Jesus Christ is not the Messiah. The memories of the inquisition ring strong in young Hannah's mind as she travels with her father to the comparitive safety of England and the smuts of the fires that burn the infidels never feel far from her face.
While this story focuses around the instability of the court, it is reflected in Hannah's inability to feel settled in her life - she feels compelled into her marriage with Daniel as he is one of the chosen people and is always under pressure to keep her faith a secret, loathing it like she would an illness.

"'You and I can be married and have children who will be English children. They will know nothing but this life, we need not even tell them of your mother, of her faith. Nor of our own'
'Oh, you'll tell them' I predicted. 'You say you won't now, but once we have a child you won't be able to resist it. And you'll find ways to light the candle on Friday night and not to work on the Sabbath. You'll be a doctor then, you will circumcise the boys in secret and teach them the prayers. You'll have me teach the girls to make unleavened bread and to keep the milk from the meat and to drain the blood from the beef. The moment we have children of our own you wil want to teach them. And so it goes on, like some sickness that we pass on, one to another'"

This small excerpt between Hannah and Daniel shows the pain that she feels living in a society where having the right religion is often a life or death choice. Most of us take for granted that we can follow any or no religious belief system and that it is our right to enjoy this without fear of torture. This novel opens our eyes to the widespread intolerance of those of Jewish faith long before Adolf Hitler came on the scene.
Philippa Gregory, as usual, constructs a beautiful story based in historical reality. Her stylistic use of using what would be considered a minor character as a narrative lead gives us that fly-on-the-wall aspect that draws us into the story and lets us empathise with the characters. In saying this, I felt that at some times the story felt too contrived in order to increase the drama - an example of this is the behaviour of Lady Dudley. I prefer my novels to read a little more smoothly, but all in all a top effort.

4 out of 5 stars.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed. I enjoyed this book more than TOBG, though .. I refused to see the film on principle because of their casting of Henry VIII. Pretty much the exact opposite of what he looked like :)

    I did appreciate the choice of the name 'Hannah' for her main character - a nice reference, I think.