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Customer Review

10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Clearly Lacking Dimension... and an Editor, June 18, 2010
This review is from: Katherine (Rediscovered Classics) (Paperback)
In the past, I've heard of Anya Seton's reputation as a writer of saccharine escapist fiction, but never really understood it. Devil Water, in my opinion, was a smashing read, and if the second half diverged into a little bit of a fairly tale, the first part was filled with characters as real as their historical blueprints. Dragonwyck, too, had that whimsical sense, but it wasn't too terribly written, nor was it boring. KATHERINE, however, is the novel from which Anya Seton clearly got her reputation and, after reading so many rave reviews, I'm really surprised at how boring and badly written the novel actually is.

Seton eschews the use of semicolons, colons, dashes, and conjunctions, preferring to string together sentences with commas. I've never read so many run-on sentences in a published work. Not only grammatically lacking, Katherine abounded with useless paragraphs and distracting, needless detail, so that one hardly lost anything in sometimes skipping full pages altogether. The prose was cluttered and heavy-handed, and did not read smoothly at all. A good editor would have sorted this problem out, so I'm curious as to how this got past the publishing house in the first place. Furthermore, none of this detail served to make clear its point. When Seton wrote about the political atmosphere, she listed event after event, but without giving the reader any true feel for what had happened or what the motivations behind it were. The main characters seemed to float in a bubble, detached from their time period and only carrying vestiges of contemporary thought and behavior. Don't misunderstand me. Katherine and the Duke were not entirely anachronistic like some historical fiction characters, but they didn't seem to belong in their surroundings either.

The main problem with this novel is that it was neither intelligent nor fun. You can have one without the other and still have a good book, but to lack both makes Seton's Katherine a chore to read. First, its theme was muddled. At times, love conquered all, even religion. Later, holiness must come before romance. When Katherine regains her lost piety, it seems to serve for naught but clearing her own conscience. If she had any true convictions at all, then I did not spot them. In general, I found Seton's portrayal of Katherine Swynford naive, one-dimensional, and unattractive. I understand this is a love story, but when the only thing that can be said of a character is that she's ridiculously besotted with the hero, there's something very wrong with the characterization. I was also disgusted that Katherine never had a second thought about caring more for the Duke than her own children. And that the novel presented this stupid, baseless infatuation as nothing less than pure, destined love. I felt that the characters were all hopeless idiots, and that I was reading a parody of them rather than the true novel. Perhaps the only exceptions to this were Blanchette and sometimes Hawise, for at moments I could sympathize with and like them. Otherwise, I quickly became irritated with the whole plot. The use of cliches and improbable inner dialogue, coupled with completely ludicrous discourse and faux psychology made Katherine one of the worst books I've read in a few months, and from an author like Seton, whom I usually respect, an utter disappointment. Two stars.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 19, 2010 10:56:48 PM PDT
Rachel says:
My goodness, we are so similar in our reading tastes in many respects! I'm also very much in the minority on this one. I read it a number of years ago, because it had been recommended as the Greatest Love Story Ever, and just didn't understand the hype at all. Maybe part of my disappointment came from expecting it to blow me away; that said, I thought it was a terribly mediocre book, full of telling rather than showing, with one-D characters. The way poor Constance of Castile is maligned is terribly unfair (another friend also reminded me of the unfair way Richard II is portrayed too - also unnecessary) and the depiction of JoG and KS's love-ins was nauseating. A shame really, because I'm sure the real couple were much more complex and interesting than that, but Seton's depiction made me dislike them both intensely. One of the most overrated historical novels out there, IMO.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 20, 2010 9:22:24 AM PDT
Hello, Rachel! We do seem to be in accord on many things :). I kept forgetting that Katherine and John were actual historical characters that I was interested in because the characters in the book were so horrible, which is a shame, as you say, because I doubt the real Katherine and John were anything like that (how could any couple be like that in truth?). I also don't know much about Constance, but I didn't buy Seton's version. And as for Richard II... well, I was shaking my head the whole time. I'm going to look for some other books on him.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 20, 2010 7:50:25 PM PDT
Rachel says:
You might like Brian Wainwright's "Within the Fetterlock" that features a sympathetic, although not too idealised, portrait of Richard II. (He's another monarch who tends to be unfairly vilified, like Edward II.) It took me a bit of time to get into, but I thought it was terrific, and very well researched.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 20, 2010 7:56:28 PM PDT
Thanks for the suggestion! I like a good redemption novel every once in a while, as long as it doesn't turn the "unfairly maligned" into The Best People on Earth a la Sandra Worth ;)
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