Sunday, 2 September 2018

GREEN DARKNESS by Anya Seton

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads



How I discovered this book: recommended to me by my sister.

Genre: 16th century historical fiction, 1960s drama, reincarnation.

'Whatsover has been in the past or is now, will repeat itself in the future, but the names and surfaces of things so altered that he who has not a quick eye will not recognise them, or know how to guide himself accordingly.'

Green Darkness opens in the late 1960s, when Celia, the new wife of baronet Richard Marsdon, is unhappy in her marriage.  This part is set during one of the country weekends enjoyed amongst the aristocracy; it seemed oddly dated; you know how some books 'travel' well, and some don't.  This didn't.  I enjoyed it well enough but didn't love it.  A few reviews have talked about how 'offensive' it is - I imagine this is because of the inclusion of certain words.  It depends how easily you're offended; I think that if a term/word/point of view is right for the dialogue, either spoken or inner, of a particular character, then it's right, whenever it was written.  I was keen, though, to move on from the 1960s to see what Celia's link with the past was all about. 

At about 20%, the book moves back to 1552, at Cowdray Castle, where the monied upstart Brownes and the impoverished but aristocratic de Bohuns await the arrival of the young king ~ the fifteen-year-old Edward VI, son of Henry VIII, who was, of course under the control of the scheming Duke of Northumberland.  Suddenly I was reading a different book, and I loved it.  I've read so much about the troubled period between the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and am always keen to read other viewpoints.  Such a dangerous time, when one's very existence depended on the whims of whoever wore the crown, and those who influenced them.  I particularly liked one part set in Cumberland.  Books written about this era are often set in the south of England, and I'd never before read such an absorbing account of what life would really have been like up in those cold northern hills; indeed, London and the south must have seemed like another country.

As 1960s Celia and other characters in the first part drift into the past, so the characters of the 16th century experience flashes of their future lives ~ this I loved, and would have liked to see more of it.  The reincarnation aspect aside, it's one of the best books I've read about life during those few dangerous years.  Interesting, too, was the suggestion that Edward VI was poisoned, and that he was not only a meek puppet controlled by Northumberland, but had all of the stubbornness of his father.  

Loved this, about Mary's coronation procession, at which the young Elizabeth was the people's star... 'So the small moon pales when the sun comes out.'

I didn't like the way in which the dialogue is painstakingly delivered in the regional dialects - it was tedious to read and sometimes not very clear.  Once you know which region a character comes from, you tend to read it in that accent, anyway; you don't need to have 'Cumberland' written as 'Coomberland' every time.   The novel is written from an omniscient narrator's point of view, hopping in and out of various heads; because Anya Seton was a talented and experienced writer this works well, but it's definitely one of those 'don't try this at home' styles; it can be confusing at times, even when so expertly executed.

I love books that illustrate the circle of time, how the past merges with present and future; this certainly ticked those boxes.  I was struck, though, by how much more sophisticated the art of novel writing has become in the past fifty years; elements of this would not stand up well under the scrutiny of today's reviewers.  But I still liked it.  😉


13 comments:

  1. I love this book so much. It's been one of my favourites since my teens.

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  2. I've always fancied a bit of past life regression, as I firmly believe that we've all been here before.

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    1. It's a nice idea, isn't it? I don't think we all have; after all, some of us have to be new souls! But there seems to be a certain amount of evidence for it.

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  3. I read this years ago and loved it. In fact I still have the book, it would be interesting to read it again.

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    1. It's often interesting to read a book after a gap of many years, Cathy, isn't it? Sometimes you see it quite differently.

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  4. It's still on my shelf! Loved the blend of past & present, but totally agree about accents & dialogue, though I didn't notice it back in the 70s when I read it.

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    1. Sometimes I could hardly be bothered to read the dialogue, it was too much effort to work out what it was supposed to say - and now and again it didn't give a very good indication of what it was supposed to. But hey. Still loved the historical bit. I fancy reading the bit set in Cumberland again!

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  5. I was obsessed with Anya Seton as a teen and read almost all of her books. This was a particular favorite, although I have not re-read it as an adult. I did, however, re-read "Katherine" a few years back and loved it, although I am a sucker for historical fiction in general.

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    1. Me too! Has to be really, really good, though; I've been spoiled by my favourites for any that isn't (re the favourites, see the lady in the comment above!)

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  6. I had forgotten about this book - read and loved a long time ago. Thanks for the reminder, Terry

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  7. For you, this was a tepid review, Terry. I remember liking Anya Seton when I first read her books but think now they would come across as dated. Not sure I want to revisit.

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    1. Yeah, in some ways I could see what all the fuss was about, in others I thought, maybe she was great then but not so much now. But people do say this wasn't one of her best, and recommend Katherine, which I have put on my to-read list. Tepid? Maybe just because I didn't love all of it - but I think the purpose of a review is to tell the reader what to expect, so maybe that's why it seems so! I rounded the 4.5 down to 4 on Amazon - I liked it, but didn't love enough of it to round up to 5!

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