Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine
Learwife by JR Thorp
One thinks of Shakespeare’s Lear as a father rather than a husband, and a widower at that. There are, I think, only a couple of passing references to a wife, the mother of his three daughters, in the play. Nevertheless it’s natural to wonder about her, just as one may wonder how many children Lady Macbeth had. Not only do we argue about the Bard’s characters, but many authors have re-imagined them in novels and stories.
It might seem that JR Thorp has been given little by Shakespeare on which to base an account of Lear’s wife. True enough, but this also means she has enjoyed perfect freedom. And Thorp writes a poetic prose, often beautifully, though it makes for a somewhat static narrative.
It begins where Shakespeare ended.
The marriage broke down long before the events of the play, and the queen was exiled, or confined, to a monastery, with only its abbess aware of her identity. She has been there for 15 years, and in that time she has been denied all company, even that of her daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia.
Then we wonder why the marriage broke down and why the queen was, as Thorp tells us, confined to her convent prison. We are given a hint early on, strong enough to make the ending less than a twist in the tale. Yet in truth the tale is not a strong one. The novel is written, as is fashionable, in the present tense, and, as usual this makes for some fine wordpainting while depriving the narrative of any vigour. Instead of a story, we get a succession of setpieces, reflections and descriptions. Many of these are pleasing, some beautiful.
There is no doubt that Thorp is a talented writer and an ambitious one. But Learwife is a first novel, and self-indulgence is of course a characteristic of many first novels. It would have been better at half the length.
Carnival of the Animals by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman
HARPERCOLLINS CHILDREN’S BOOKS,
£14.99 (EBOOK, £8.99)
REVIEW BY HOLLY COWELL
Michael Morpurgo’s latest offering is a collection of children’s poems inspired by 19th-century composer Camille Saint-Saëns’ musical suite of the same name, celebrating nature and the magnificent animals who share our planet. Each poem is witty and buoyant, giving voice to creatures great and small – from a spiteful Camel and sentimental mother Elephant to a pair of misunderstood Giraffes and a humble Bumblebee. A personal highlight is Mammoth, detailing the scientific endeavour to revive this extinct creature. With stunning illustrations and foreword by Michael Foreman, this delightful book would make a perfect timeless gift for any child.