Reviewed by Julie Barham
This is an immensely profound book. It encompasses huge themes – birth and death, self imposed exile and imprisonment, the deep thought of the well known and the hardly known. Bible stories and Tudor history flow through a novel that made me stop and think, consider the big questions of guilt and freedom, and realise that this is a book with so much to offer the read. The writing is superb, managing to convey the torment of the minute realisation of guilt by men, and the effects of huge changes on women. It speaks of the strength of women, how they receive support from others, and how the decisions of others can affect lives. There is the strand of love, of desire, and how impermanent love can be in whole lives. A strong book, a book of great depth and power, a memorable book of human life. Despite the setting of various historical feeling, the thinking is relatable today,and feels very approachable. King David, Bathsheba, her husband Uriah all live once more in this book, with all their doubts and faith, while Thomas Wyatt must reflect of the vicissitudes of being at the mercy of Henry VIII. I was intrigued and pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.
The book opens with a somewhat disturbing scene of a woman’s punishment. It then switches to the story of the Ark as featured in the Old Testament, with all the detail of its symbolic importance and contradictions, and the people who deal with it. The story of the King who deals with it emerges, as David recalls his anointing by Samuel and his subsequent defeat of the giant, Goliath. So much is known generally there is not a huge concern for giving away the plot as such, but there is so much feeling from David, as an imperfect man, who imposes a time of exile on himself as he considers his life and loves. Uriah’s plight is examined in detail, his obsession with duty dominating all his other actions. Bathsheba is here depicted as a very real woman, full of doubts but also the growing realisation of her new situation. I found the details of her life as expressed here often powerfully moving, and brilliantly written.
The career of Thomas Wyatt, poet and courtier to the difficult Henry, is sketched in as he finds himself imprisoned. The contrast between the freedom of his falcon and his close confinement in a place where he is forced back on his own resources is a brilliant one. The beauty of language, the challenge of translation and the concerns of a man in love all flow through this section, providing a poignant comment on the power of kings to dictate their subjects’ lives.
This is a big book, and not a quick read, but the writing flows so well that it is a pleasure. I recommend this book for its knowledge and research, its thought and many interesting aspects. It is a satisfying novel, with deep insights into the characters’ thoughts. I enjoyed this exploration of stories which are briefly written in the original, yet so intelligently expanded. Apparently this novel follows Cook’s book Achilles, which I will be keen to discover.
Julie blogs at Northern Reader
Elizabeth Cook, Lux (Scribe, 2019) ISBN 9781911617792, hardback, 352 pages.BUY at Blackwell’s via our affiliate link.