Friday, December 05, 2008

The Conqueror

Heyer, Georgette. 1931. The Conqueror.

File this one under as being an almost-review. An almost-review of a book that seemed to have no end. Maybe the original audience--British folks in the 1930s--would have been so well-educated or schooled in the history of the era--William the Conqueror--that The Conqueror would not have seemed so daunting. Perhaps their textbooks gave it more than a sentence or two in passing. Still, for a novel--not a nonfiction text--this one is quite heavy. This is the first time that I wished there were cliff's notes for a Georgette Heyer novel.

Let's take the glass half-full approach, The Conqueror is rich and abounding in details. It was obviously meticulously researched and reads more like an epic chronicle of a long-gone era. Is that a positive enough spin?

What would make The Conqueror a better book? I've got several suggestions. How about an introduction with at least five paragraphs on the birth, life, and death of William the Conqueror. Perhaps explaining the context for the novel. How about a time line? Something that organizes both facts from William's life and facts from the countries involved. How about a list of characters? I'm assuming that at least half of these characters are grounded (loosely or not so loosely) in history. I'd expect at least a few to be fictional--maybe more. But fictional or historical, a list of characters would have proven invaluable.

I suppose Heyer had a sink or swim approach with her writing. None of the characters--none--are introduced slowly; none merit a description or explanation. At least history books are written in such a way as to guide readers gently but surely into knowledge. They assume you need all the help you can get. I kept reading and reading thinking surely this is the chapter where suddenly everything will click, will begin to make sense. It's not that I'm a lazy reader. It's not that I'm completely hopeless when it comes to history. But I think there is a gap between what readers should reasonably be expected to know and what this book expects.

I wanted to like this one. I haven't given up completely on it. I may do some research and go back to it at some point. But not until I've read up on William the Conqueror.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Anonymous said...

"The Conqueror" isn't my favourite Georgette Heyer (my favourite is "Devil's Cub"), but I liked it well enough, and I wasn't over-burdened with a knowledge of William the Conqueror at the time of reading it. (I'm not British)

But if you'd like to know more about him and his times, I'd recommend Simon Schama's BBC-series "A History of Britain". Part 2 Conquest in particular. L.

Here's a clip:

Marisa said...

I found your review as I searched for cliff notes, because I felt the exact same way. I might just have to set this book down.