The Brazilian by Rosie Millard

First Written for Shiny New Books

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The Brazilian by Rosie Millard Review

The Brazilian opens in a London beauty salon where the middle class and nearly middle aged (although she would be furious if you suggested so!) Jane is getting a Brazilian and discussing her upcoming holiday to Ibiza with the beauty technician. Jane is annoyed and perhaps slightly scandalised when she hears that the technician’s son is also going to Ibiza. Surely it was too exclusive and expensive for someone like him? This is an excellent introduction to inimitable Jane. In just a few lines one finds out what is important to her and how she likes to consider herself above others. Shortly after she has this thought: “fame and sex, thinks Jane. These things are important to her. She wants to have both of them. She has neither of them. And she’s in her forties. In a few years, she won’t be able to have either of them”. She is funny for the reader to be around, perhaps inadvertently so, but the humour that makes this novel skip along is demonstrated in the first few paragraphs.

Jane and her longsuffering – although not exactly innocent – husband Patrick, eight year old George and babysitter Belle are going on an ‘high class’ summer holiday full of family time and yoga to Ibiza. Although it becomes clear that no one really has any intention of ‘family time’. Belle for a start is planning on taking full advantage of the paid for holiday in the clubbing heartland. In order to be with her, boyfriend Jas is also on the island. He has tagged along with a cheap walking holiday so that he and Gemma can meet up when the sun goes down. This is unfortunate because Jane wants her to take charge of George while she sets out to get herself on a cheap daytime reality TV show called Ibiza (or Bust).

Ibiza (or Bust) features a group of not very famous ‘celebrities’ prepared to be followed by cameras for two weeks while taking part in a series of challenges for a few thousand pounds and exposure. Included in the group are two of Jane’s neighbours; Alan Mackin (a financial advisor of minor fame) and contemporary artist Philip. Philip’s unusual and flamboyant wife Gilda also makes a brief but valuable appearance. Will they be Jane’s way in to her reality show dreams? “It was just so unfair. Act like an arse and a show-off, like Philip Burrell does and that silly Alan Makin, who bought his way into the Square without so much as an invitation, just slapped his money down, and what happens? You get on television. Quietly get on with being sophisticated and stylish, like her, and what happens? You get ignored.”

Fellow contestant Gemma, a TV estate agent, is somewhat out of her depth on the show. Taking part in task one, a water challenge, she is scared and unsure, with the thought of the cameras always on her mind. “She walks to the edge of the pontoon. From this position, there is quite a drop to reach the water. Say, about three feet. Oh, just do it. You’ll be on telly, she thinks. Imagine her friends, her parents, her boss, seeing her unable to jump off a silly pontoon onto a silly lilo. It will be on YouTube forever. She’ll be a laughing stock if she doesn’t do it.” The behind the scenes of cheap reality TV is excellently done. It is funny from start to finish with show producer Simon providing a welcome injection of cynicism; his feet are firmly on the ground.

Each chapter is told from a different perspective which keeps the story fresh and helps to round out the narrative. The Brazilian is a fun filled satire that takes on fame, celebrity, middle class families and modern sensibilities. Anyone who likes reality TV and for those who like to complain about them or ridicule them will enjoy this aspect of the novel. Full of action and drama from the start it is difficult not to be caught up by the entertainment. Millard’s past as a journalist is reflected in her fiction writing. She picks up on the small things that tell us so much about a person and their interpersonal relationships. Jane and the Ibiza (or Bust) contestants are ripe for comedy. Characters such as George, Belle and Gemma help to soften things with their sweet hopes and kind personalities which also makes them easy to root for. Importantly each character is recognisable and although comic, not cliched.

On a small point, there were several spelling mistakes which should have been picked up before publication. The novel was otherwise very well written and paced. It got me through several days of poor health, making me laugh throughout with its clever cultural commentary. Having enjoyed The Brazilian I have since ordered Millard’s earlier work The Square which involves many of the same characters, and I look forward to her next work.

 

Rosie Millard, The Brazilian, (Legend Press Ltd, London, 2017) ISBN 9781787199873. Paperback pp251

Listening In by Jenny Éclair

First Written for Shiny New Books

Listening In Jenny Eclair

 

Listening In is a collection of 24 short stories from comedian and writer Jenny Éclair. Her last literary outing was the well-received novel Moving, reviewed on Shiny New Books here. Running at around 10 pages per story it is perfect bed time reading. Black and white illustrations by the author are dotted throughout the collection which add a personal touch.

Each story is written from the first person, giving them an intimate feeling, plunging the reader straight into the mind of the protagonist. They really do feel as though you are ‘listening in’. The secret thoughts, conversations, hopes and disappointments that would normally remain lock up inside are explored.

Although each story is unique and stand-alone the theme of revenge does run across multiple stories. Those small moments of success and comeuppance, feature throughout. As in the case of the protagonist of Margot’s Cardigans or A Slight Alteration these moments have taken a long time to emerge and have only really occurred by accident. Those serendipitous moments in life where a long-suffering wife or loving mother has the chance to rebalance their surroundings. Many of the stories are deeply funny. None more so than those in which good intentions turn in on themselves and women who seem to be one thing turn around and surprise their families.

Combining both revenge and a comedic turn of events is Christine Paints. Here a couple have moved out to the countryside so that the husband can pursue his writing career in peace. At the same time, his wife has been finding ways of integrating into the local community, of making new friends. One way she has done this is through a local art class. This one morning a week event which will go on to change her life in ways she could never have predicted. The ending had me punching the air with joy as Christine was able to do what everyone who has ever been betrayed or mistreated has dreamt of.

“It’s never easy, the first day, it it? First day anywhere really, school, new job, holiday?”. In Fantastic News, a middle-aged couple go on holiday, leaving their adult children behind: 23 year old University student Scott, and the slightly more troublesome twenty nine year old ‘spoken word’ poet Tamsin. When Tamsin sends her mother a mysterious text, imaginations start to run and hopes climb. The relationship between the unnamed woman and her husband John is incredibly realistic and entertainingly told. One doesn’t have to have had the same experiences to be able to recognise the patterns they have fallen into. The ending, which I shall be careful not to spoil, was quietly beautiful.

Anthea’s Round Robin is laugh out loud funny from beginning to end. It starts out as one would expect but quickly descends into a catalogue of a failing marriage. It seems that Anthea has only ever dreamed of one thing: “I had plans drawn up for a new kitchen extension, because let’s face it, what woman in her right mind doesn’t dream of a laundry room-cum-larder-stroke-boot room and pickling kitchen?”. She sounds middle class and middle aged. A woman who has lived for her children for so long that she has largely ceased to live herself. Her husband is another matter altogether. Their picture-perfect life falls away with each sentence and the reader is given an hilarious insight into Anthea’s life so far.

In Carol Goes Swimming a woman has been pushed into going swimming by her nurse. It is time to focus on her health and weight (although this is something that the nurse seems to believe applies only to patients and not to medical professionals). The smell of chlorine never changes and it pricks her memory into action. She is taken back to school swimming lessons, teaching her children and to meeting her best friend Sandra. Now Carol has a new life to navigate but an encounter with the past will remind her that she is not alone. This story is a testament to the importance, romance and power of lifelong friendships.

The collection started life as a BBC Radio 4 series called Little Lifetimes, which are still available to listen to online. This very popular miniseries demonstrated Éclair’s way with words and ability to craft intriguing first person narratives about seemingly ordinary women with hidden depths. This wonderful volume is very high on my list of favourite short story collections and is not to be missed.

 

Jenny Éclair. Listening In (Little Brown Book Group, 2017) 9780751567731, 246pp., Hardback. .

Holding by Graham Norton

First Written for Shiny New Books

The first thing one does after finishing Holding is breathe a sigh of relief. When a well-known personality branches into fiction there is always the fear that they will not be very good; that maybe they have been given a book deal because of their celebrity and social media following. This is most definitely not the case with Graham Norton’s debut novel Holding; a well written enjoyable novel that deserves to take pride of place on any bookshelf.

Holding is set in the small Irish village of Duneen, County Cork. The village’s only Garda (police) presence is that of Sergeant PJ Collins. Overweight and underemployed nothing interesting ever seems to happen in Duneen. That is until human remains are found on and old farm. As the investigation gets going, secrets that have long laid buried come to the surface. All is not as it seems. Resentment, anger and frustration have been bubbling beneath the surface and as each revelation comes to light the image of a picture-perfect community is punctured a little more. Collins is more used to dealing with paperwork and acting as a traffic controller at local fetes. When he is called into action can he step up to the plate and be the Gardai he always hoped he would be?

Alongside Collins is equally frustrated Brid Riordan. Drowning her disappointment in wine she is far from the naïve in love young woman of twenty-five years ago. The still beautiful and fragile Evelyn Ross is equally as trapped, keeping house for her two older sisters who have been growing old together. Brid and Evelyn had once been love rivals but now they couldn’t be more different. The focus of their affection was a young Tommy Burke. The tall silent type he courted Brid, hoping to take procession of her farm when they married. At the same time, he also allowed Brid to develop feelings for him. She was inexperienced in love and has lived a largely unfulfilled life. When Tommy mysteriously disappeared both women’s lives were changed irrevocably. Holding takes us to the centre of the love triangle that had such a profound impact on their lives.

The highlight of the novel is the way in which Norton has drawn his three main characters. There is a kindness is their depiction and it is easy to find oneself rooting for them; hoping that they will break out of their bonds and fully realise their hopes and potential. Collins is not the most obvious character to choose to lead a novel but Holding is the richer for him. He is a man who has settled into an easy life, avoiding all risk of romantic failure and hurt. Similarly, Brid is a fully rounded and not always likeable character who is far more than her drinking habit. In contrast Evelyn is someone who has lived almost in stasis. What for most people would have been an unsuccessful childish romance was compounded by the deaths of her parents. She has lived in a state of almost paralysis for the past twenty-five years. Her character arc was particularly well done and enjoyable to follow. There is a tinge of sadness to her life. Will this be lifted by the end of Holding?

The action is largely enclosed within Duneen, a place that rarely has internet access let alone dramatic and surprising murder mysteries. There are a few moments where the characters motivations and emotional turns seem a little unconvincing and Holding is not what one would expect from a traditional crime thriller. However, the character development is the backbone of the novel. Norton has a knack for drawing sympathetic characters. In this well paced novel each character finds themselves nearing middle age wondering what they have achieved so far and whether they are holding onto to the past rather than stepping into the unknown. Loneliness and uncertainty are always hovering at the edges. The novel is sweet and understated.

An otherwise positive Guardian review argues that “surprisingly … he steers clear of rendering Irish speech beyond a few “sures” and “lads””. This is something I was very grateful for. From living in Ireland, I have found that many writers tend to over exaggerate Irish vernacular and slang, giving the impression that they have never set foot into rural Ireland. Fortunately, Norton largely avoids stereotyping village life.

As the novel came to its close I thought I knew what would happen. Soon though I found myself sat bolt upright surprised at the turn of events. It would have been so easy to create a simple, twee happy ever after with little truth or life in it. However here we have something much more interesting. Holding is a charming debut from beginning to end.

Graham Norton. Holding. Hodder & Stoughton. London. 2017. 9781444792034.  Paperback. Pp312.

No Cunning Plan: My Story by Tony Robinson

First Written for Shiny New Books

Tony Robinson autobiography No Cunning Plan: My Story

 

Like many people I first came to know Tony Robinson through his role as Baldrick on Blackadder, before following him as he helmed Time Team. This autobiography though shows that there is so much more to Robinson than that. Starting out as a child actor he has led an exceptional life, which he tells in an easy going, funny and fluid way in his long awaited autobiography No Cunning Plan.

The cover note gives this humorous insight into what is to come:

“… Along the way he was bullied by Steve Marriott, failed to impress Liza Minnelli and was pushed into a stinking London dock by John Wayne. He also entertained us with Maid Marion and Her Merry Men (which he wrote and starred in) and coped manfully when locked naked outside a theatre in Lincoln during the live tour of comedy series Who Dares Wins. He presented Time Team for twenty years, watching countless gardens ruthlessly dug up in the name of archaeology, and risked life and limb filming The Worst Jobs in History. Packed full of incident and insight, No Cunning Plan is a funny, self-      deprecating and always entertaining read.”

Having made his stage debut when still at school Robinson later adventured to drama school where he thought he would be one ahead of the rest of his classmates. However he soon found himself challenged, engaged and eventually married. His life as a bohemian in Bristol, living in an improvised commune, or collective, called Fred’s Place, makes one yearn for the vibrancy and sense of friendship and adventure that spawned such an idea. Living in Bristol and staying in London regularly is an antidote to the idea that to have a creative career one must live in the capital. He touches on the upsides and downsides of this arrangement but one thing that shines through is that where ever he goes he seems to develop close relationships that last through the decades. He deals touchingly and honestly with the loss of both his parents to dementia. The death of his father also coinciding with the collapse of his long term relationship with Mary, the mother of his two children Luke and Laura, in what proves to be a deeply sad episode in his life.

I have followed his TV career for many years but was still surprised at Robinson’s sheer volume of output, ranging from theatre, to books to TV. As a long term Labour supporter and unionist he has led an active political life that is touched upon throughout No Cunning Plan. There are several brilliant anecdotes. From irritating a young Liza Minnelli, to becoming enchanted with Helen Mirren when finding out she picked up a tattoo in a Marseille brothel, to being thrown in the Thames by John Wayne, sharing a trailer with Richard Attenborough and of course staring alongside Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder.

It is from the now infamous 80s comedy that the title comes from. During the filming for series three the actors would work on the scripts after they had been created. The punchline that Robinson has become known for originally wasn’t his

“At least four characters, including Percy and Blackadder, had mentioned their ‘cunning plans’ in the first two series. But in the second episode of series three Baldrick accidentally destroyed Dr Johnson’s newly written dictionary and wanted to replace it. ‘I have a plan,’ he said according to the script. I suggested I add the word ‘cunning’ to my line, to make it seem a more considered plan, one that was devious and unique, something I was deeply proud of no matter how ridiculous it might turn out to be. And when the others agrees this was a good idea, I remember thinking that it might be useful if I used the phrase in future episodes, because it could be deployed to put nonsensical strategies in Blackadder’s mind which he wouldn’t otherwise have thought of. Thirty years later at least one person a day still comes up to me and says, ‘Ere, Tone, you got a cunning plan?’, and I smile and nod with amusement as I’m bound to do”

I devoured this read in just a few days and have gone on to recommend it to others. Reading this is likely to leave the reader feeling warm and comforted, but also keen to live a life as full an interesting as Robinson’s seems to have been. The text skips along and strikes a good balance between detail and narrative propulsion, avoiding the trap that so many fall into of focusing intently on one’s youth and bypassing the gossip that many readers are hoping for. Blackadder is not given as much focus as some may hope: his entry into the comedy and his feelings around his co – stars are expressed in just a few pages.

No Cunning Plan also illuminates his writing career; from staging, writing and directing plays as a teen ager, to leading various theatre groups to his successful writing career, most notably in his books for children and TV series (including the nostalgia trip Maid Marion and Her Merry Men). Robinson is easy to like and spend some time with this is easy to devour autobiography.

 

Tony Robinson No Cunning Plan: My Story. Sidgwick & Jackson London. June 2017. Paperback pp. 432. ISBN 978-1509815494.

 

 

Holly Madison: The Vegas Diaries

First Written for Shiny New Books

Holly Madison: The Vegas Diaries. Romance, Rolling the Dice, and the Road to Reinvention

 

Holly Madison is best known for her seven years at the Playboy Mansion and for her position as Hugh Hefner’s ‘Number One’ girlfriend. With The Vegas Diaries, the second instalment of her autobiography, she sets out to change perceptions of herself and her work to become the person she always wanted to be.

The Vegas Diaries is the follow up to the surprise number one bestseller Down the Rabbit Hole (reviewed here) from the former playboy model and girlfriend, in which she made it clear that she did not want to do a kiss and tell and had only entered this process in order to set the record straight. She kicked off her new life with a stint on Dancing with the Stars before going on to the lead role in burlesque show Peepshow. Here she took on the mantle of lead with aplomb, going on to revitalise the Bo Peep inspired show making it one of the most popular spots on the strip while starring as the lead for the longest ever time, truly making the show her own. Her own reality show soon followed. Madison candidly navigates Las Vegas’s social and dating scene. Her last memoir followed an Alice in Wonderland theme, and  for this one it is the Wizard of Oz; each chapter beginning with a quote and the roughly central theme of finding oneself in Oz before finding home.

The first way in which she sets out to do this is through burlesque. Having had a love affair with the art form for many years she finally has the chance to dive head first into the genre. Taking on the headline role at burlesque show Peepshow Madison was responsible for reinvigorating the brand and turning it into Vegas’s number one hot spot. Her interest in burlesque first began in her twenties when she went to a show with Hefner and the other Playboy girls. It offered a refreshingly individual and vital alternative to the blonde, pink lipped beauty expected of her at the time. ‘Sitting around our VIP table was one bottle-blond fembot after the next, clad in some version of the same outlandish bustier, and all slightly dead behind the eyes. In burlesque, a woman could be both sexy and unique’. Alongside this Madison tries to position herself as an empowered independent woman on a journey of self-discovery. Burlesque fits into this perfectly. ‘The independent women who used burlesque as an artistic outlet to celebrate their creativity and their femininity on their terms and in their own unique way. Deep down, that was who I wanted to be’.

The Vegas Diaries begin after she left the Playboy Mansion. When discussing her former life with her friends the germ of an idea to write her story started to grow. She had this to say on why she hadn’t talked before that: ‘I had to accept that I kept quiet about my life at the mansion because I was ashamed. I kept quiet because I wanted people to believe the fantasy version because for so long I wanted to believe the fantasy’.

Vegas may seem like an unusual place to begin a new life but after having survived seven years at the Playboy Mansion the glitz, glamour of Sin City must have been appealing. For some people a Playboy history is something to be proud of and exploit, for others it is something to overcome. Madison uses The Vegas Diaries to try and plant herself firmly in the latter category: ‘attempting to shed the Playboy stigma and asking people to reconsider how they viewed me was an uphill battle’. It is up to the reader how much they buy into this. As a part of her reinvention she has latched onto the idea of female self-empowerment. Whether this provides a feminist story of self saviour will be left for each individual reader to decide. However, the stark difference between her Vegas life, in which she lives and dies on her own abilities, compared to the Mansion, is interesting.

Although she makes it clear from the start that she does not wish to embarrass or publicise others Madison does detail her love affairs with the same humour and honesty that marked Down the Rabbit Hole. This does however limit the interest for those searching for scandalous Vegas gossip as she gives pseudonyms to her partners. She is insightful and does not let herself off, particularly in her retelling of her relationship with Mark. There is some slight overlap with Down the Rabbit Hole, but The Vegas Diaries are angled to show how she worked her way to independence and self-esteem. This does not have the same weight and interest as her previous volume but is an entertaining read nonetheless. The book closes just before she met her husband and gave birth to her daughter. This was either done to mark the point that she had achieved her aim, or the cynic could suggest that it is to leave the door open for a further volume.

The Vegas Diaries is lighter on gossip but provides more insight into her life, circle of friends and love life. A fair amount of this has been covered in her previous book and reality series, as well as in the tabloids, and there is some overlap with the last quarter of Down the Rabbit Hole. As a result of this, this one may be more for fans than the casual reader. It is definitely more for fans of Holly than Playboy.

 

Holly Madison: The Vegas Diaries. Romance, Rolling the Dice, and the Road to Reinvention (Dey Street Books,  2017). 978-006245714, 288 pp., paperback.

Vampirella

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Vampirella – Smock Alley, Dublin

Director: Conor Hanratty

Composer: Siobhan Cleary

Librettist: Katy Hayes

Conductor: Andrew Synnott

The world premiere of Opera Briefs 2017 production of Vampirella took place this evening in the main stage of Smock Alley Theatre. This work by composer Siobhan Cleary is the result of a creative partnership between the Royal Irish Academy of Music and The Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art at Trinity College Dublin.

Based on Angela Carter’s story this makes for an interesting and entertaining basis for an opera. As the somewhat unusual title suggests vampires feature heavily in this work. Set deep in the Carpathian Mountains The Count watches posthumously over his beloved daughter. His love outliving death. The young Countess meanwhile is consumed by loneliness, living in the shadows with only her Scottish Governess for company. In 1914 an English soldier called Hero seeks shelter in a desolate castle. Arriving on a bicycle in tweeds with a perfect upper class English accent his hunt for a cup of tea couldn’t be more out of place in this home of the undead. Soon he meets the beautiful Countess but is taken aback by her unusually sharp, pointy teeth and lengthy nails. When her pet cat scratches him she cannot resist the chance to drink.

Hero is presented as an innocent. He enters the stage from the right completely free of fear with a naïve sense of humour. Throughout the performance one waits to see whether he will retain this innocence and go onto survive or whether he will eventually be drawn into darkness. The final scene sees a change in tone that rounds of the opera on a sad and tragic note. Traditionally, in pantomime in particular, the characters representing good enter from stage right and those representing evil enter from stage left. This idea is used and played with in Vampirella when our protagonists take their places on the stage. The Count sits above the proceedings, only descending to the stage when he fears that his daughter will be lost to the charms of this invading Englishman.

Special applause should go to the orchestra who navigated the piece successfully from beginning to end while also managing to play in near darkness. They seemed to be both technically exact while supplementing and furthering the narrative without ever overpowering and obstructing the vocalists. The compact team worked well together in this tightly organised and plotted production. In line with this the stage is effectively utilised with simple props; a bicycle and a bed moving easily from one side to the other. Eight cloaked figures holding candles haunt the stage; singing, chanting, moving in unison.

This is an ideal opera to take place in the city that gave birth to Bram Stoker and that has been drawn year after year into tales of vampires. At the close of Vampirella one is left questioning who the real monsters are and can innocence survive in this world?

 

THE TEMPTATION OF ELIZABETH TUDOR BY ELIZABETH NORTON

First Written for Shiny New Books October 2016

9781784081737

The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor concerns itself with the potential marriage between the teenage Elizabeth Tudor and Thomas Seymour. The book focuses primarily on Seymour, his story being less well documented. This is the story of his rise and fall and of the risks that the young Elizabeth faced as a princess without the protection of her parents. The stage is set with the death of the much loved and feared Henry VIII in 1547.

Thomas Seymour was brother to Jane, Henry VIII’s third wife and the one that finally bore him a son. As Jane became Queen and royal mother her family’s status significantly improved. In time his older brother Edward went on to become Lord Protector of England during Edward VI’s minority. As uncle to the King Thomas, envious of his brother’s success, allowed his vanity and entitlement to guide him he set out to raise his own status. His schemes, political plots and spying make for the most fascinating of political intrigues.

Seymour married Henry’s sixth and final wife Catherine Parr. Already widowed three times by her early thirties she was finally in a position to marry for love and it seems Seymour returned her feelings. Shortly after Henry’s death they, rather scandalously, married. However, before this Seymour had already courted the attentions of Princesses Mary and Elizabeth, and also possible the child Jane Grey, making his hope to marry into royalty and power clear from the start. He was a power hungry and charming courtier who saw his opportunity to climb to power in the aftermath of Henry VIII’s death. In late 1547 Elizabeth was only fourteen years old and living with her step mother the Dowager Queen, and her new husband, Thomas Seymour.

One particular story is often touched upon in documentaries; the famous scene of Seymour tearing up the young princesses dress with his sword as she is held by her stepmother Catherine. There was more to it than this one scene though. The domineering Seymour would enter Elizabeth’s chamber early in the morning, trying to catch her still in bed dressed only in her nightdress, where he would proceed to ‘tickle’ her, sometimes even with the assistance of Catherine. This flirtation seems to become increasingly overt and threatening, with the result that Elizabeth, at the risk of scandal, is sent away out of Seymour’s reach. Her line in the succession makes her both powerful and vulnerable to attack. As the daughter of convicted adulteress Anne Boleyn many expected Elizabeth to behave in the same way so she was particularly vulnerable to rumour and gossip.

After Catherine’s death Seymour acts in an increasingly reckless manner until he is arrested for treason, thus endangering the very existence of the princess. Norton delves into this chapter of her life in detail and picks out the happenings and feelings that go on to form Elizabeth’s character. Without the threats she faced as a result of Seymour’s interest in her Elizabeth’s path in life might have been very different. Norton argues that is from this episode that she learned that relationships could be dangerous and scandalous. Although Elizabeth is not known to have expressed a clear desire for or interest in Seymour, in the sixteenth century a princess’s virtue and reputation could be threatened by rumour alone.

One of the main arguments of The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor is that her early bruising experiences of her flirtation and thoughts of marriage with Seymour resulted in Elizabeth’s decision to remain unmarried; becoming the ‘Virgin Queen’. Although this is likely a contributing factor it seems unlikely to be the only cause. This is a rare portrait of the early romantic life of the princess, instead of the frequent focus on Robert Dudley and her international suitors when Queen. As this is more a biography of Thomas Seymour’s political life and death rather than of Elizabeth’s youth or early romantic relationships the title is perhaps a misnomer; catchy and intriguing but slightly misleading. The lines Norton chooses to end on do not fully fit with the narrative thrust of the rest of the book when she suggests that ‘he was her temptation’.

The sibling rivalry and consternation between the Seymour brothers is a particularly interesting counterpoint to the royal siblings who appear to have shown remarkably little jealousy or rivalry despite their much closer proximity to power. Some elements of the scandal seem remarkably relevant to today’s tabloid magazine articles; the question over virginity, pregnancy, secret pregnancies, interfamily love triangles and affairs.

Norton is an accomplished and prolific writer, having written multiple biographies of royal women. It is rare to find a history book that is so readable and enjoyable. Fortunately a family tree is included at the back, which is necessary for following the relationships between the two closely connected families. This is a well-studied period of history, but Norton has found a section that can go towards feeding the ever present Tudor mania. Her sources show a wide and thorough reading and research that went into forming this intellectual yet lively investigation.

The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor is a vivid and entertaining read, on occasions full of suspense and intrigue. It shows how a young royal could become trapped, used as a pawn, between the competing factions looking for political dominance in the court. The extent to which Elizabeth, and her younger sibling Edward, had control of their own lives is debateable. This is certainly one of the most comprehensive and interesting accounts of Thomas Seymour. The backstabbing and political machinations make for a deeply involving account; one can easily see why this period of history still has the power to fascinate.

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Elizabeth Norton, The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor (Head of Zeus, 2016). 9781784081737. 368pp., paperback.