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The Confession of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn - Review

Thursday, April 26, 2018

This book was a real departure from what I usually read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and it surprised me. Someone else chose it for my book club, it was £2.49 on Kindle, I want to go to book club next month, so hey-ho, in for a penny and all that.

It's about Katherine Howard, obviously. She was the fifth wife of Henry VIII, and she was only a teenager when she met him although he was much older. She was eventually beheaded for adultery. This was as much as I knew about her, so I went in kind of blind.

The book is told from the point of view of Catherine Tilney, known as Cat. She meets Kate when they are both wards of the Duchess of Norfolk, at her house in Horsham in Sussex. There are a few girls who are wards, including a few who later become Katherine's ladies in waiting at court. They are pretty much left to their own devices, due to the absence of the duchess. Katherine has a sexual relationship with their older music teacher, Henry Manox, and Cat watches her friend grow absent from her. Then the duchess' household moves to Lambeth, where the girls meet Francis Dereham and his friend Ed.

The novel is dual narrative, because in the present time Kate is queen of England, and Cat is one of her ladies in waiting and is in a relationship with Francis herself. Kate is having an affair with Thomas Culpeper, and Cat is complicit in this and will be seen almost as guilty as Katherine herself. I really liked Cat as a character, I thought we definitely understood a lot of things about her and her feelings towards Kate.

I didn't know how it was going to end, and I really liked the meandering way we got there. I thought the resolution of the book was a little rushed, but I thought the very, very end was absolutely perfect and quite daring.

I met a friend for lunch on Tuesday (and her new baby!) and mentioned I was reading this, as she's very knowledgeable about historical fiction and she even teaches it at Teesside University. She was really pleased that I was enjoying it and we talked a bit about how it is told in modern terms, mostly. The language is very modern, and when there are archaic phrases they are well explained (although I did have to look up what a kirtle was). The reader understands the world of the young girls as they move through Tudor England and understands the love affairs presented. I thought it was really interesting how we never see the king - even though he's one of the main players in this he isn't present on the page at all.

I would definitely read something by the same author as I really liked the accessible way she wrote. I may also try something else in the same genre - Philippa Gregory or Hilary Mantel or something. Any recommendations would be gratefully received!

While this isn't a YA book, I do think that a teenager interested in the subject matter could very easily read it. It's about teenagers after all, even though their world is very different to ours. There is some sexual matter, but it isn't too graphic and would be suitable for older and more mature teens. There's some talk of contraceptives (which I thought was really interesting, but please don't use half a lemon rind as contraception, kids) and some talk of sexual assault, but like I say, I think it would be okay for older teenagers.

I am giving this five out of five because I thoroughly enjoyed it and read it relatively quickly for me!


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