The Good Wife of Bath
Author: Karen Brooks
Publisher: 7th July 2021 by Harlequin Australia, HQ & MIRA
Pages: 526 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 5 cups
In the middle ages, a poet told a story that mocked a strong woman. It became a literary classic. But what if the woman in question had a chance to tell her own version? Who would you believe?
England, The Year of Our Lord, 1364
When married off aged 12 to an elderly farmer, Eleanor Cornfed, who's constantly told to seek redemption for her many sins, quickly realises it won't matter what she says or does, God is not on her side - or any poor woman's for that matter.
But Eleanor was born under the joint signs of Venus and Mars. Both a lover and a fighter, she will not bow meekly to fate. Even if five marriages, several pilgrimages, many lovers, violence, mayhem and wildly divergent fortunes (that swoop up and down as if spinning on Fortuna's Wheel itself) do not for a peaceful life make.
Aided and abetted by her trusty god-sibling Alyson, the counsel of one Geoffrey Chaucer, and a good head for business, Eleanor fights to protect those she loves from the vagaries of life, the character deficits of her many husbands, the brutalities of medieval England and her own fatal flaw... a lusty appreciation of mankind. All while continuing to pursue the one thing all women want - control of their own lives.
‘I’m merely a wife.’ I lowered my eyes and tried to appear demure. Master Mervyn stood. 'Ha!' he said and drained his drink. You may be a wife, but there’s nothing mere about you.’
‘The Good Wife of Bath’ is the fictitious story of The Wife of Bath from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - something I am not overly familiar with. This is not a quick or light-hearted read (page numbers aside). However, what I can tell you is that Karen provides her readers with an absolutely epic tale of love and loss, heartbreak and hope from the Middle Ages and it is not to be missed.
‘You’ve said it before. Many times. Lest you’re forgetting, I'm also an ugly little bitch. It’s not slipped my memory.’ Did he flinch? ‘I’ll have you know’, I said softly, ‘I’ve been called worse.’ (Just for the record, I hadn’t - not then.) He glanced at me. ‘They’re just words.’ (I was yet to learn the power they had to inflict injury.)’
This is a one woman’s tale and it is filled with everything life can throw at a person. It will call on strength and understanding but gosh … there will be a few laughs along the way. Karen has surely provided the perfect balance in this all engaging story. Starting off as a cheeky, young twelve year old, Eleanor ends up having five husbands and each brings with them a story within itself. Towards the end, when it would seem life and circumstance has worn her down, Eleanor still retains her staunch ambition and fierce loyalty towards her ‘family’.
‘Philippa is accustomed to being her own woman,’ he said stiffly. 'I’m sure you of all people understand.’ Did I? I was hardly my own woman, I belonged to Turbet, and before him, Fulk, and before him, Papa. What woman could really be called ‘her own’? What did that even mean?’
Medieval daily living leaps off the page, testament to Karen’s impressive research. You will witness everything from plague to trade, physical abuse to unbreakable friendship bonds. Each of the books Karen has written (and I have read them all) are amazing in their attention to detail and the rich historical fact and fiction provided - right down to the swearing! This makes for incredible storytelling and an unputdownable story. The authenticity of everything from dialogue to social mores of the day, is richly detailed and leaves the reader needing to know more.
‘I’ll tell you what,’ I said, before she could answer. ‘It makes me a fool, enslaved to my heart --- and my c---’ ‘It makes you a good wife,’ she interjected. ‘Prepared to give your husband the benefit of the doubt.’ ‘Good wife?’ A dry, bitter laugh escaped. ‘I should be by now. I’ve had plenty of practice.’
Life is certainly not easy for Eleanor and she is the representative for all women, strong and most certainly forthright in her views and opinions. It is crushing at times to see what she endures but her determination to do right by those she loves is beyond admirable. It’s courageous. And I believe that is what Karen wants you to recognise and be inspired by.
‘It’s time you trusted who you are and stand up to anyone else who would try to belittle you. And that includes me. Do you hear me? Use your voice, woman, use it for yourself and for those who don’t have one. And use it well.’
‘The Good Wife of Bath’ is an exploration of the treatment of women in a time so far removed from what we know today. At times hilarious, at times heartbreaking, this book is sure to speak to many with Eleanor’s efforts to overcome the many adversities that arise throughout her eventful life. I highly recommend this book to not only lovers of history and literary classics, but also readers who love stories involving strong and complex women.
‘I’ve been with this woman since she was just a wee bit older than Lowdy. She’s been through more than you can imagine and, guess what? It’s never stopped her trying, nor giving folk a chance. She never says anything she doesn’t mean and she certainly wouldn’t be making offers if they weren’t genuine.’
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.