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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Throwing in Towel on Mary

Okay, I am officially crying "Uncle!" Two hundred and fifty pages in (not even half-way through) and I can take no more of Antonia Fraser's Mary Queen of Scots. I really wanted to finish this...having a love for the British Isles and their history. But I just cannot read one more word. Historical writing has come a long way in the last 41 years and there are a lot of writers out there who can take subject matter that is much less exciting than the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, and keep the reader waiting on the edge of their seat to see what comes next.

Not Fraser. She's excellent as a mystery writer. And I'm going to have to go find one of her mysteries to read to remind myself how excellent.

Her history of Scotland's beleaguered queen leaves much to be desired. A varied vocabulary would be nice for starters. There was an abundance of repeated phrases--so much so that I kept double-checking the page number to be sure that I hadn't read the particular chapter before. I also found the repeated references to Mary dissolving into tears when meeting with various lords and noblemen to be very grating. On the one hand, Fraser seems to be trying to portray Mary as a much more level-headed and politically-minded young queen than Elizabeth of England...but then she ruins the scene with all the waterworks. And maybe it's the difference of 40 years, but I find the footnote & reference note system to be terribly unhelpful. I am used to footnotes, end notes & reference notes that actually clarify the points noted. When Fraser makes a note in reference to some of these weeping episodes, for instance, she merely directs the reader to the source in question. I would have to go find the work and look up the reference to find out what exactly history has to say about the particular episode. Why was Mary weeping? What bearing, if any, did it have on the conference's outcome? And this happens for every note made. The reader has rare access to the source material (there are few quoted passages) to judge for herself.

I might not have minded all that so much, if the writing were brisk and accessible and made me actually care about the story of the Queen of Scots. From the Amazon synopsis and what I know of history, this could have been a very good historical story, indeed. Just because it is history and factual, doesn't mean it can't be engaging. Good history is. I'm sorry to have to say, this isn't. Rating equals Did Not Finish.

1 comment:

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Good morning! :D I popped in again to see how you are doing with the book and see you have waved the red flag. :D I get that. I have some of those.... I have a large book on the six wives of Henry VIII on my shelf that intimidates me by its size - but also that it is older and I am afraid I may not be able to read it.

Hope your next read is wonderful!