Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Woman in Her Prime

Alice Hartley's Happiness
by Philippa Gregory


Genre; Drama/Contemporary/Feminist
Publisher; HarperCollins/London/2009
Pages; 257
ISBN; 9780006514657

Plot; Alice Hartley is in a loveless marriage. She is a free spirit, but her husband is a cold, unfeeling, materialistic university professor who has a strong distaste for her organic and floaty ways.

She must leave him, but she is not going empty handed.

With the professors most prized possessions loaded into the van of a young and geeky, but virile, male student, Alice is on the run towards a new and fun life. A life filled with people waking from the dead, natural water births, cement like carrot cake and nosey vicars.

My Thoughts; As I browsed through Booktopia's online clearance sale I saw this book listed for a mere $1.50. I hadn't read any of Philippa Gregory's other titles, but I had heard the acclaim for her other novels and I had seen The Other Boleyn Girl and loved every moment of it. I didn't bother to read the blurb, choosing the book purely because of the author and the cover.

As I picked the book up to begin, I went in expecting some kind of historical fiction. I was wrong. This is a tale most unlike Gregory's famous Tudors series. This is a story of a modern woman, living a modern existence.

I can't say I didn't like the book, it was funny and provided great entertainment, but it isn't a book I would recommend to friends.

Alice Hartley's Happiness was written ten years before the Tudors series, for which she is most known, and I think this is shown by the way it has been written. Gregory is in the early stages of her writing success, developing her own style. She knows she must engage the reader, but doesn't seem to know how. She literally speaks to the reader in an attempt to make a bridge between herself and the person holding the book, "But even as she spoke, you - the reader- felt a deep sense of foreboding." Gregory has done this at various points throughout the story and it doesn't seem natural, it seems forced, which makes it uncomfortable.

When I was categorising this book into a genre I really had to think hard. To me, this is a feminist work. It depicts a woman who chooses the irregular over the norm, and lives the life she wants, how she wants it. Alice is not always depicted in the greatest light, and she does some terrible things, but you cannot help but like her for her independence and the way she rationalises her choices.

As I said, I wouldn't recommend this title to friends, and if you are a big fan of Gregory's historical work don't pick this title up with any false hope towards a good historical bash. The length of this book, and the subject matter, makes it best for a quick read to fill in time between more satisfying books.

Happy Reading!

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