For The Most Beautiful
by Emily Hauser
This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s review pages.
Think of the tale of Troy. What names can you remember? Active men; Achilles. Paris. Passive women – Helen, only remembered for being beautiful; Cassandra being laughed at for her unbelievable prophesies. In “For The Most Beautiful”, Emily Hauser has told the story of two unlikely heroes, women whose voices have been lost. Krisayis, daughter of the Trojans’ High Priest, and Briseis, princess of Pedasus, start off near the top of the hierarchy, but both are enslaved by the Greeks. Their struggles in the face of that disaster, and the need to preserve the essence of Troy, form the core of the book. Looking down from the clouds is the panoply of gods – with their own desires and agendas, and with two of the female gods NOT chosen as “most beautiful”…
If I hadn’t been reading a review copy, I might have abandoned it. The early vacuousness of its protagonists, and shallowness of the gods, really irritated me. But I persevered, and gradually grew to like, and then admire, the girls – very much. I got to the end of the book, and immediately read it again, this time appreciating the superb character arcs that Ms Hauser has drawn. The gods hadn’t changed, but then that is the nature of gods.
This is a fascinating picture of life in Bronze Age Troy, from the point of view of women at both the top and bottom of society. Ms Hauser’s knowledge of, and respect for, the period shines through. Read it twice. You won’t regret it.
STITCHES IN TIME – The Story of the Clothes We Wear
Lucy Adlington, Random House, 2015, £16.99, hb, 410pp, 9781847947260
This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s review pages
The author’s deep scholarship is very evident, as is her joy in clothing. A collection of anecdotes talking about an item of apparel per chapter, this book could have been entertaining froth; but it’s much, much more.
She focusses on the last 200 years, but ranges from prehistory onwards, describing the evolution of items in a very engaging manner. The book is illustrated with black and white sketches and photos, and has a colour centerfold.
From knicker elastic to hats, topics are covered in detail. My favourite timeline takes the pocket from a fold in a Roman toga to today’s handbag, covering chatelaines, a man’s “posturing pocket” (not what you might think), and the 18thC “indispensable” on the way; each journey has similar intriguing details.
I learned something new from every chapter, and was thoroughly entertained whilst doing so; there’s articles of interest here for everyone. The book has an extensive bibliography and source reference material, making it a good springboard for research. An excellent book for either the fashionista or the historical novelist in you…
The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book starts off slow, and the plot continues at this pace – it’s a pretty straightforward recounting of the major events in Michelangelo’s life, with some occasionally wooden reactions to them.
What makes this book shine – in fact, what makes it unmissably stellar – is the lyrical, beautiful descriptions of both the process of sculpting, and Michelangelo’s sculptures and paintings themselves. You learn how difficult it is to mine marble, how to transport it, how to choose a piece without inclusions by watching the sunrise through it. Then Michelangelo picks up his hammers and chisels – made afresh for each sculpture – and Irving Stone takes you inside the mind of the master, so that you feel you understand the exact places to carve away the snowy grain of the marble to achieve the desired effect, and you taste the marble dust at the back of your own throat.
Stone’s bibliography leaves you in no doubt that he knew what he was talking about, and there is a surprising body of Michelangelo’s writings in existence. I think that reading this book is about as close as you’re likely to get to one of the greatest creative minds who ever lived, and this book will be coming with me when I go to Florence. It has made me yearn to see these great sculptures and frescos, which Stone describes with such authority and conviction.
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