Amenable Women

I found Mavis Cheeks' Amenable women a surprisingly enjoyable read. It was a bit slow to get off the ground, and initially I thought that it wasn't going to be my kind of book. It felt as though it was going to be a fairly conventional rom-com type book, and then it took off, and became something quite different.

Flora, a sixty-something recent widow, was married for many years to the handsome charismatic Edward. Flora, a plain woman, has followed in his wake, doing much of the work but getting none of the kudos. The village thinks that Edward was quite wonderful, only Flora realises that he was an adulterous, unintelligent, and hilariously snobbish boor. Following Edward's demise Flora starts revising her husband's history of their village - actually Flora's idea, but appropriated by Edward, and discovers a connection with Anne of Cleves - a fellow plain woman, much denigrated over the centuries.

Flora soon uncovers the truth behind Anne of Cleves, a much braver and cleverer woman than had previously been portrayed. The accounts of Anne of Cleves and her relationship with Mary and Elizabeth, I found especially moving, and there were also some wonderful laugh out loud moments, and some pieces of truly lovely writing. Told partly from Flora's point of view, and partly narrated by Holbein's Anne of Cleves portrait this is much more than just a romcom, it's a very insightful look into the place of women in society, of the shallow value of appearance over everything else, of the place in history of art, and of how untruths in history can be promulgated - in this it has much in common with the previously reviewed The daughter of time. It also has one of my favourite images in fiction - the idea that celebrity art-show previews are staged so that the paintings can have something nice to look at - that did make me laugh, the thought of people looking at portraits, who are looking at them in return.

This is a lovely read. Perservere through the early chapters, which are not representative of the book as a whole. It is well worth reading.


Popular Posts