Friday, 8 October 2010

Book Club - Wideacre, The Favoured Child and Meridon by Philippa Gregory

It is rare that I read a trilogy or series of books, especially one directly after another. When I first read Wideacre, I was unaware it was one of three titles based on the Lacey family and their grand estate in Sussex; the novel was strong and complete in its own right. But a trilogy is was, and boy am I pleased about that.

Wideacre tells of a rich squire's daughter, Beatrice. She is passionate, intelligent and devious, and will do anything to own the Wideacre estate, which by eighteenth century law must go to her brother. This book is full of delicious scandal!

Despite, Beatrice's corruption and deceit, I somehow continued to sympathise with her - quite an achievement on Gregory's part. I loved the moments where Beatrice was shown to be tender, but her fierce and ambitious side made a thrilling read.

The Favoured Child, follows Julia Lacey and her cousin Richard as they grow up on Wideacre. My favourite of the three novels, it was fast paced, unpredictable and gripping. One of its many strengths was the sense of familiarity Gregory created by using some characters from the first novel. Another factor was the vivid writing. Narrated by Julia, the prose was warm and heart-felt. It created rich pictures of Julia as she grows from a child to a young woman. I could not help but hate Richard with a passion; there is no doubt he was spoilt, cruel and selfish, a true villain. I willed Julia on, hoping she would develop the Lacey trait of courage.

Meridon begins away from Wideacre. This concerned me at first, I was unsure Gregory would be able to continue my interest in the Laceys away from their estate. But Meridon's childhood as a gypsy with a circus added new life and excitement to the series, making it impossible for me to resist being absorbed. As beautifully descriptive, and equally frustrating as the previous two novels (at times I wanted to shout at the characters), Meridon keeps the reader in suspense until the final pages with a satisfying, but not predictable ending.

The novels are more than just light-hearted fiction, each considers serious topical issues of the time. The inequalities between men and women, the injustice of the justice system, the rules that kept the poor down and the rich wealthy and the difficulties girls face as they grow into young women.

One of my previous dislikes of Gregory's writing was her tendency to begin her novels with a slow, descriptive passage. These three novels were an exception - the opening pages were cleverly placed, symbolic to the rest of the story or straight into the action. Characterisation was strong, with no unnecessary characters or dialogue. The three Lacey women as narrators were particularly intriguing, maintaining a balance between being familiar and individual. My only fault was that Gregory occasionally repeats herself in order to emphasise the important points she wants the reader to pick up on. A little more faith in her readers' common sense would not go amiss. But this is a small complaint in light of an otherwise fantastic read. I cannot praise Gregory enough.

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