Saturday, April 21, 2007
Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory
A Touchstone Book, by Simon & Schuster
516 pages - all right! A chunkster!!!!
Earthly Joys is the story of John Tradescant the elder, who was the gardener to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury at Hatfield House, and George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. It takes place during the early 17th century in England, from the years 1603-1638. And, what an eventful time that was! Among the events described are the Gunpowder Plot and a failed attempt to aid Huguenots at La Rochelle.
John Tradescant was not merely a gardener, he was an expert naturalist who worked first for a man who was a royal spy and confidante and then another who was the favorite of two kings. The book describes events from the perspective of Tradescant. As such, it goes into his travels, his personal life, the planning of gardens at several large estates and his relationships with those who employed him. He was sent to Europe, The Levant (on the Mediterranean Sea), Algiers and Russia to collect bulbs, trees and other plants and bring them back to the two gardens, collected rare objects, and is described as having been privy to inside information on political events as confidante to both of his masters (that is where I'm guessing that Gregory may have played a little with Tradescant's status).
As you can see from the links, I dashed over to Wikipedia to read up on the characters, places and events described in the book. I'm unfortunately history stupid as my education in history was jumpy, at best. King James was, as far as I knew, the guy who had the Bible rewritten and King Charles I the man who was ousted by Oliver Cromwell during the first English Civil War and then beheaded. And, I only knew about Charles' beheading because of an English couple I chatted with while visiting the village of Farnham, where Charles spent the night and left behind a beaded cap as thanks (also the place I met a ghost, but we won't go into that).
The book doesn't actually cover what little I knew of Charles' troubles and King James' changes to the Bible are barely even mentioned. So, the historical background of Earthly Joys was almost entirely new to me. When I picked it up and read the cover, I was a little hesitant. A book about a gardener? How interesting could that be? But, it was a group read and I've wanted to read something, anything by Gregory for quite some time. Amazingly, I was quickly sucked in.
I can't compare the book to any other title by Philippa Gregory, since it's the first of her titles that I've read. But, I will say that there were times the events were fascinating and the pages flew and other times that the book dragged. In general, I disliked John Tradescant. He was described as devoted to his masters to the point of placing them second to royals, who were considered on a level just beneath God. Often, Tradescant would rhapsodize about his love for Buckingham and his physical beauty, which was hard to comprehend because Buckingham - at least as described in this book - was a narcissist and a con man, only out for himself and willing to act as a se*ual plaything for two kings. There is even a point at which Tradescant's love carries him away, the result being a graphic se* scene that I wish I'd started skimming just a bit sooner. Regular readers of my blog know that graphic se* is not my thing. I prefer that an author tippy-toe around such things without describing in detail.
Apart from that bizarre turn, I enjoyed the book enough that I never considered setting it aside. The history was particularly enjoyable; I love a book that teaches me something. And, Tradescant did become a less objectionable character toward the end of the book. Someday, I would really love to visit Hatfield House and see the gardens, which are still in place. Have a look at this knockout photo of the knot garden.
3.5/5 - above average, sometimes slow, and there wasn't a single passage that I marked for purposes of quoting.
At 516 pages, Earthly Joys has just become my third chunkster and counts toward the Chunkster Challenge. Wahoo! I was starting to feel a little pitiful, being the host of a challenge and only halfway to my goal. Just one more chunkster by June 30 and I'll be finished.
I've always liked the way Literary Feline Wendy and Book Nook Les add pertinent details about the publisher, length and genre at the top of their reviews, so with this review I've decided to begin adding those details whenever possible.
And speaking of the Chunkster Challenge, I've tried to visit some of the participants and found that a few of the links are now dead. So, I'll be writing a check-in post, next week and I'll see if I can find something to give away to one of the people who check in. Another drawing! Won't that be fun?
While digging for books for the Non-Fiction Five, I discovered that I have the sequel to Earthly Joys, which describes the life of John Tradescant the younger: Virgin Earth. I'm probably not going to get to that one right away, but I do plan to read it and was excited to find that I already owned a copy. Yes, I have quite a few books.
I finished The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy, last night. This is another book that I'm reviewing for Estella's Revenge, so I'll post a link to the review on or about May 1. The book is a May release by Turtle Point Press, an anthology of short stories about love in various forms and a mere 154 pages long. It's probably very telling to note that The Secret Lives of People in Love has more post-it notes sticking out of its pages than any other book I've read, so far this year, and I read the book very, very slowly to absorb each sentence.
Look what's growing in my garden (yum!):Hubby and I worked on the herb garden, today. We now have tomatoes, basil, strawberries, sage, French lavender, Spanish lavender, lavender cotton (seriously, I am a nut for lavender) and yarrow growing in the herb garden and planters. About to be added: rosemary and chives.
Off to read. Happy Weekend!