Different Strokes for Different Folks, and How Many Folks Would You Like?

Today a fellow by the deceptively friendly name of “Bob” left me a one-star review on my Amazon page. In a nutshell, Bob thought there were too many characters, too many facts, not enough action, and not enough descriptions of medieval castles and homes.

Bob, bless his heart, is entitled to his opinion, and I only wish he’d posted it before I went shopping today so I could have consoled myself with an extra pair of jeans. As it is, it’s given me a chance to indulge in some Teddy Grahams (cinnamon graham cookies shaped like teddy bears, for you folks across the pond) without guilt.

My Southern graciousness toward Bob did wear a little thin here, though:

Whether the homosexuality of Edward II is a fact or a figment of the author’s imagination I don’t know. Nor whether its use here is more than an attempt to meet to what some consider the “correct” tone of the present times.

Which makes me wonder: Will some author next come up with… “Washington & Lafayete, A Story of Forbidden Love?”

Cute, very cute. But Bob, a few short minutes of Googling might have cleared up this difficulty for you. Edward II’s homosexuality isn’t a fact–no one knows whether he had sexual relations with his male favorites or not–but it’s very far from being a figment of my lurid, politically correct imagination. Suggestions that Edward II was involved in sexual relations with men date back to the fourteenth century, well before my time, thank you very much, and I’m merely following in a long line of writers, both historians and novelists, who have depicted his relationships as homosexual. (The only respect in which I differ from other novelists, as far as I know, is that I depict him as having heterosexual relationships outside of marriage as well–a depiction that is borne out historically by his acknowledged out-of-wedlock son, Adam, and near-contemporary rumors that he had been having an affair with his niece.)

Just to set the record straight, so to speak.

Anyway, speaking of long novels with a lot of characters, I’m reading Margaret George’s Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles and am enjoying it thoroughly. For my own part, when a historical novel takes place over a long period of time and involves complex events, I’d rather have it be a long novel with many characters than a short one with just a few characters. Sharon Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour (1459 to 1492; long) and Juliet Dymoke’s The Sun in Splendor (from around 1464 to 1489; short), for instance, both cover the Wars of the Roses and Richard III’s fall and include some of the same events. They take very different approaches, with Penman telling the story through the viewpoint of many characters and Dymoke telling it through one, that of a woman who knows most of the major players but who is often at the periphery of events. I find Penman’s approach more satisfying, and Dymoke’s novel, though readable and agreeable, strikes me as skimpy by comparison. It’s a matter of taste, I guess–what’s yours?

5 thoughts on “Different Strokes for Different Folks, and How Many Folks Would You Like?”

  1. At least he admitted he hadn’t read it and said why, and the rumours about Edward II’s preferences are fairly well known (they’re even in Braveheart, after all), so most people with an interest in history would know you hadn’t made it up.

    I’m in the Penman camp too. If the novel covers a long period and a lot of events I like to see things from several people’s points of view. There are two sides to every war, and quite often more than two. I also like shorter novels that concentrate on a particular event as it affected a few people – e.g. Cornwell’s ‘Sharpe’ novels each focus on a few weeks, usually around one of the Penininsular War battles, and on Sharpe, his mates and his (current) woman.

  2. Sorry about the review. 🙁 Got to love the way he criticises you for calling ‘most’ of the characters Hugh and Isabel, as though you had any control over what their names were!

    I agree with you and Carla – if a novel is covering a long period of time, I prefer it to see the events from different points of view.

  3. Margaret Evans Porter

    Add another to the Penman group, as long as the author has skill enough to keep the reader on track and not confused by the variety of characters and locations. (When it goes wrong, it’s terribly jarring.)

    Yet I do enjoy novels taking the Dymocke approach, too.

    It always depends so much on the quality of the writing.

  4. I prefer juicy, big books.

    I think I won’t read reviews on Amazon of my own books. Heck, I seldom read those of other books, either, because every illiterate idiot can post a review on Amazon. This doesn’t say Bob is one of these, but I came across some really un-useful reviews when I started using Amazon and stayed away from that part of the site pretty quick. 😉

  5. Susan Higginbotham

    Thanks, ladies! Jean Kerr (a playwright and a humorist who wrote in the 1950’s and 1960’s) suggested pasting bad reviews on the bathroom mirror so you have to look it at them every day. “Recuperation is complete when the phrase ‘witless and tastless’ seems as quaint and meaningless as ‘smoking in the outer lobby only,’ ‘no U turn,’ or ‘twenty-three skiddoo,’ as gloriously incomprehensible as ‘a thinking man’s filter.'”

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