Wednesday, May 18, 2011

review : just a girl

Just a Girl, Jane Caro (UQP)

The girl destined to be queen sits in her chamber on the eve of her coronation and reflects on the tumultuous path of her life to this moment. Elizabeth recalls her childhood, declared illegitimate when her father King Henry VIII executes her mother Anne Boleyn for treason and adultery (but really for not begetting him a male heir), throughout her adolescence, her incarceration in the Tower of London and the deaths of her brother and sister, which led her to the throne.

Though disadvantaged by her sex, Elizabeth is extremely intelligent, has an incredible aptitude for Latin and Greek as well as a keen interest in politics and diplomacy.

Just a Girl illustrates the young Elizabeth’s sexuality in the playful scenes – and reputation-damaging scenes – of not-entirely-innocent games with Thomas Seymour, the younger man Catherine Parr (the last wife of King Henry) marries after the death of the king. These vivid scenes mark the point in the novel where Elizabeth realises how cautious she must be if she wants to keep her head.

Jane Caro’s created Elizabeth doesn’t suffer fools; she’s as hard on others as she is on herself. Although she does have empathy and is a very loving person, this is tempered by her ambition. Her arrogance makes her human, just as the way her enjoyment of people looking at her, and calling out to her, as she rides in the royal processions will be something the young adult readers of this book can identify with.

Just a Girl also works well as an introduction to the Tudor and Elizabethan eras, with the descriptions of life at the time: fabrics, living situations, sounds and smells (such awful smells) and the occasional glimpse into the lives of the poorer subjects of England who come out to watch the kings and queens pass by.

There is no way Elizabeth is ‘just a girl’. She is smart and ambitious enough to know that, for her “it has to be Queen of England or nothing.”

This review taken from the longer review I wrote for Magpies magazine, which appeared in their March 2011 issue.

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