Laura Ashe, Richard II: A Brittle Glory (Penguin Monarchs), (London: Penguin, 2017)
With a particular connection to Shakespeare’s play about Richard, and a few Penguin Monarchs already under my belt, I’d really hoped for something special from this book.
I was disappointed.
The main issue is not Laura Ashe’s subject knowledge (clearly immense), or even her writing style (clear and accessible enough). What distracted me and deters me from recommending this without reservation is the approach she took: thematic rather than chronological.
The consequence of this, for a biography, is that it is difficult – almost impossible – to follow the subject’s life. For someone looking for contextual information for their studies of Shakespeare’s play, or as a starting point for the historical period, it is difficult to piece together the factors which may have combined to cause a decision, policy or event. The reader needs to produce their own chronological framework – which is surely what this book should do – before they can start to synthesise their own ideas. And if you are interested in the themes and not the person, there are probably much more useful books out there, given how short and condensed the Penguin Monarch series is – again, that’s not a criticism of Ashe.
Overall, whilst it’s not one to avoid, be prepared to be frustrated by the disjointed narrative. An opportunity to produce something really useful has been squandered.
3 thoughts on “[book review] Laura Ashe, Richard II: A Brittle Glory”
Sorry you didn’t like it. The publisher asked me to do something different, not just a straight chronological story, so that was the commission. I hoped the first chapter, moving through his reign chronologically via the most critical moments (clashes in parliament, battles etc) would help. Sad that it didn’t. Anyway, thanks for the balanced comment.
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Thanks for getting in touch, Laura. It’s interesting – I got the sense that you were a GREAT choice for the commission (I really hope that doesn’t come across as patronising) – it was the approach to the book which was a bit confusing for me, and compared to some of the others it feels like you were dealt a tough brief. That’s why I would probably suggest something else for students. Again, the last thing I want to be is condescending, but I would certainly read anything else you published which was relevant to my interests or what my students are looking at. If it’s any consolation, I’ve been waiting 2+ years for RIII and have – cheekily – offered to write one for Penguin, if Rosemary Horrox is struggling.
Thanks for the encouragement! RIII is absolutely the best gig/most poisoned chalice simultaneously…