23/07/2016

Being Elizabeth (by Barbara Taylor Bradford)

Many years ago I read a few books by Barbara Taylor Bradford, and quite enjoyed them. They mostly involve high-powered businesswomen, which isn’t a topic that interests me much, but some of the stories were well thought-out, and the endings mostly encouraging. However I then read a couple that I found rather tedious and over-detailed, and had not read any of her books for over ten years.

Recently a friend read ‘Being Elizabeth’, and suggested I might borrow it. She told me that the idea behind the book was a modern equivalent of the first Queen Elizabeth, and the idea intrigued me. I picked it up to read this week, and quickly discovered that this was not merely loosely based on the former monarch, but mimicked her life in many ways. The novel opens with news of her older sister Mary’s passing on, so that Elizabeth, aged 25, is now head of the family company, Deravenels.

We learn that Mary was not a good boss, and that their father Harry had six wives and treated his daughters abysmally when they were young. Elizabeth’s advisors have the same or similar names to the historical advisers of Queen Elizabeth I, and much of the plot mirrors her life, albeit set in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

I like the idea very much. In the hands of a writer such as Susan Howatch, books of this kind can be very powerful, with characters inspired by historic figures. Unfortunately, Taylor Bradford chose to stick much too closely to the original storyline, and as such this book is a series of events in someone’s life rather than having any plot as such. There are minor stresses here and there - plots to take over the company, or disagreements between Elizabeth and her lover Robert - but all are resolved quickly and easily.

There’s an ongoing subplot involving her cousin Marie - evidently the modern equivalent of Mary Queen of Scots, again with similar storyline to the original - but nothing much comes of it. And since I know the history, at least roughly, there were no surprises. I was, however, mystified that Elizabeth and several of the other characters refer to Marie as ‘the kilt’; it’s not an expression I’ve heard before, referring to a person, and while I can imagine it might be used in a derogatory way of a Scotsman (though it’s not standard slang, as far as I know) it seemed a very bizarre word to use of a Scotswoman.

My biggest gripe with this novel was the overall writing style which, for such a prolific and best-selling novelist, is a poor imitation of what might be expected. Indeed, it reads like a first draft rather than a published novel. While I didn’t notice spelling or grammar errors, there are so many writing mistakes that I’m shocked that the editor didn’t spot them. Clichés abound, dialogue is stilted, thoughts and discussions are repeated, and far too many adverbs are used. We’re told what people look like or how they are feeling - skipping around viewpoints within the same page - but rarely shown anything.

There is a huge cast of characters, none of them particularly well-drawn, and it didn’t seem to matter if I forgot who was whom. Elizabeth is the main character, and there are some diary-style thoughts of hers given now and again, in italics, although they don’t add much to the plot, merely repeating much of what comes before, in most cases. She has several advisors whom she trusts, who all seem remarkably similar and two-dimensional.

Apparently this book is the third of a trilogy, but I didn’t feel as if I were missing out on anything, nor do I have even the slightest inclination to get hold of either of them.

Really not recommended - however my friend evidently liked it, and some of the reviews online are good, so if you like this style of writing, you might enjoy the novel more than I did.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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