Posters of Katherine Howard are everywhere, advertising yet another Tudor novel

At every railway station I have been in recently, there she is – Katherine Howard. Not bad for a teenage girl executed over 450 years ago, and whose passing was not much lamented at the time. The eye-catching posters are in fact advertising a novel – yet another one – about the unlucky fifth wife of Henry VIII. You can see details of the novel here and its author, Suzannah Dunn, has her website here.

The online reviews suggest the book is rather a good one. Miss Dunn, I am told, is following in the footsteps of Philippa Gregory, whose books sell by the cartload. I have, however, tried reading the latter and found her hard going, and sometimes unintentionally hilarious, largely because I felt the register of language that she uses is jarring. I cannot imagine Tudor people speaking to each other in the way she describes. And incidentally, just in case you think that historical novels are not my thing, I greatly admire the work of Jean Plaidy; and if you think I am a highbrow snob, let me tell you that I simply loathed Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which I reviewed for the Church Times. That review is behind a pay wall, but a copy can be seen here.

I have already blogged about the headless queens of Henry VIII, so forgive me going back to this subject, with which the entire nation (not just me) seems obsessed. While on the topic, you might like to know of an author who to my mind writes brilliantly well about the Tudor period. He is C J Sansom, and I am just about to settle into his latest novel, Heartstone.

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I have spent many years reviewing books in various places, and one of the reviews I am proudest of is the one I wrote for C J Sansom’s first book, Dissolution, back in 2003. It was a first novel, but I said that it marked the debut of a great new talent, or something like that. And so it has proved. My other critical direct hit was when I spotted Salley Vickers’s first novel Miss Garnet’s Angel as marking her out as a writer of rare talent. There, too, I was shown to be correct. I notice from Salley’s website that Miss Garnet has sold about 350,000 copies. Well, I said it was good, and people have agreed with me.

I remember the late Colin Haycraft telling me once, a long time ago, that the success or failure of a book was in the lap of the gods. I think that was his way of saying that no one, least of all publishers, can truly predict what books will succeed and what will not. Public taste is elusive, hence all the dud books that roll off the press every year. The public lapped up The Da Vinci Code, but have proved stubbornly uncharmed by its numerous imitators. It is true that anything Tudor sells, but can anyone tell me why?

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