A gripping novel of love, passion, betrayal and heartbreak. Katherine Parr survived Henry VIII to find true love with Thomas Seymour – only to realise that her love was based on a lie.
Clever, sensible and well-liked, Katherine Parr trod a knife edge of diplomacy and risk during her marriage to an ageing, cantankerous King Henry. When he died, she was in her late thirties and love, it seemed, had passed her by. Until, that is, the popular Thomas Seymour – bold, handsome, witty and irresistible – began a relentless courtship that won her heart. Kate fell passionately in love for the first time in her life and, also for the first time, threw caution to the wind with a marriage that shocked the worldly courtiers around her.
But all too soon it becomes obvious that Thomas has plans beyond his marriage for the young, capricious, quick-witted heir to the throne – Elizabeth – and that in his quest for power, he might even be prepared to betray his now pregnant wife…
Kate's whirlwind romance is witnessed and recounted by her closest friend, Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk, who lives through the tumultuous years after Henry's death at Kate's side. A sharp and canny courtier in her own right, Cathy is keenly aware of the political realities of life at court and is, apparently, a loyal supporter of her friend. As her story weaves its way through that of Kate and Thomas's heady passion and tragic denouement, however, it gradually becomes clear that Cathy has her own tale of betrayal and regret to tell…
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'My, what a story…delightfully vulgar and utterly compelling.' The Times
‘Suzannah Dunn…weaves…a love story that is both moving and believable…of second chances at love, and passion reawakened.’ Telegraph
‘Mesmerising and beautifully written.’ Scotsman
‘Suzannah Dunn…weaves a kind of love story that is both moving and believable. This is the Tudor world as seldom seen…The result is historical chick lit at its most charming.’ Telegraph
‘Dunn [sheds] possible new light on Katharine’s marriage to Thomas Seymour and her final days are treated with sympathy and skill.’ The Tablet
Praise for ‘The Queen of Subtleties’:
‘Suzannah Dunn is, as ever, a mistress at describing the material world through which her characters move.’ Guardian
‘A boisterous historical recreation.’ Independent
‘“The Queen of Subtleties” offers a stunningly refreshing way of retelling an old story. I often abandon historical novels nowadays, but I really could not put this one down. It brings Anne Boleyn to life as never before, and, probably for the first time ever in fiction, Henry VIII emerges as a truly credible character in an authentic setting.’
Alison Weir, author of ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’
by Suzannah Dunn
When the idea for the first of my so-called historical novels came to me -
Anne Boleyn's story in her own words - I immediately dismissed it. I don't
do historical fiction. Then came another idea: Well, don't write it as
historical fiction. But what did I mean by that? I wasn't even a reader of
historical fiction, so how could I presume to know what the new generation
of historical novelists were up to? 'Prithee' and heaving bosoms were what
I meant but, to be honest, I knew that 'prithee' was long gone. Characters
in historical fiction do, though, still talk in a stilted fashion - 'do
not' instead of 'don't' - and even that was enough to put me off. And this
business of the bosoms: it's not bosoms that I mind, it's that they're
heaving. Historical fiction is too often costume drama, it seems to me,
rather than real - human - drama.
Character is what I go for, both as a reader and a writer. My characters
have to be more than the stuffing for some eye-catching dress. They have to
feel real: really, really real. And a big part of how someone is, is how he
or she speaks: that, too, has to feel real. Perhaps novelists who use 'do
not' instead of 'don't' are trying to remind us that their characters lived
in a world very different from our own. And if so, fair enough: that's
certainly one way to do it. But it's not my way. It's not what I want. It's
exactly what I don't want.
That's how I've ended up with readers asking me why I don't write dialogue
as it was spoken in Tudor times (and that's when they sense it's a
conscious decision; some seem to think it's an oversight). I have to
contain my sarcasm: 'Oh, and you know how people spoke, then, do you?'
Because although we know how people wrote (correction: how some people
wrote - those who could write), it would've been different from how they
spoke. We all write differently from how we speak, much more so than we
realise, and if you don't believe me, look at a transcript of speech: it'll
be practically unintelligible. Consciously or unconsciously, we all do a
lot of tidying up to make our words clear on a page. We translate the
spoken word into the written word. Cod olde English is just a fashion in
translation. No more than that. Just an idea. Take it or leave it. Well, I
decided to leave it. Look at it this way: it's acceptable (indeed, de
rigueur) for translators not to give us a literal, word-by-word translation
and instead to phrase things so that they're as faithful as possible to the
original but - crucial, this - give us the flavour. The problem, for me, is
that the flavour of characters who say 'do not' rather than 'don't' is one
of quaintness. And the people I write about were anything but.
Take Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk, who narrates The Sixth Wife. My reading
had given me a clear picture of a woman who was thoroughly modern for her
times, an outspoken woman with a disregard for formality and tradition.
That was the impression I needed to give my readers, and no amount of
'prithee' was going to do it.
Oddly enough, truth matters above all to me as a reader and writer of
fiction. Most often when I put down a novel unread, it's because I don't
believe in some or all of it. I'm thinking, 'But he/she wouldn't
do/believe/say that!' My job as a writer, as I see it, is to get to the
truth of something or someone and then enable you, the reader, to see it,
too. To that end, I'm always stopping myself as I write and asking myself,
checking, 'Would he/she really think this/behave like this?' And, now, with
historical fiction, 'Did they...?'
Because, of course, I'm now dealing with people who did live, who were once
real. It matters to me that I do them justice. Reading as widely as
possible gives me a picture of them that's both broad and detailed. Yes,
historians differ in their accounts, but not usually too much. I can weigh
up what they say and come up with something that feels believable. I'd
assumed that Katherine Parr was nice but dull, but a bit of reading around
showed me that she was a lot more interesting than that. Which, happily, in
turn, makes for a more interesting read.
What's hard for me, funnily enough, is making things up. That's my job,
too, though. I need to tell you more than you know, and more than you could
possibly ever know even if you read all the history books. I'm not a
historian and I should do something other than merely retell history. I
have to go beyond or behind what's known and come up with a story. In The
Queen of Subtleties, my invention was the king's confectioner - not her
existence (her surname and the kind of work she would have done is what we
know of her) but her unwitting, tragic involvement with the innocent young
man who was executed as the alleged lover of Anne Boleyn. In The Sixth Wife
the sad truth is that cautious, clever Katherine Parr survived her marriage
to Henry VIII only to make the all-too-common mistake of falling for a man
who wasn't worthy of her and who messed around with her fourteen-year-old
stepdaughter. My invention is a central role for Katherine's best friend in
this sorry tale.
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Book Description HARPERPRESS, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX000723242X