Author: Philippa Gregory
Release Date : February 4, 2002
Publisher :
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
ISBN-10 : 0006514642
ISBN-13 : 978-0006514640
Pages : 640

It is the time of the English Reformation — a moment in history when King Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic Church to head the Protestant Church of England. These were the tumultuous times in which we find the heroine, Alys.

The story begins with Alys fleeing from a burning abbey, her home since she was twelve. She had run away from her foster mother, Morach, and her poverty-stricken and loveless life . Morach is the village wise woman, both a healer and a secret dabbler in the dark arts. The ruin of the abbey tragically forces Alys to go back to Morach and her former life of drudgery. But as fate would have it, Alys is sent as an answer to the summons for a healer from the lord of the manor, Lord Hugh, who upon seeing her value in healing and clerkship, makes her live in his castle.

This is where Alys sees the lord’s son, Hugo, and falls obsessively in love at first sight. But Hugo is married to a spiteful, jealous Catherine. And so begins Alys’ spiritual and moral decline in her desire to win and keep Hugo’s love.

Philippa Gregory has written a very dark book. The gloom permeates the entire story in which most of the notable characters are intense sketches of avarice, selfishness, evil, and depravity. There is no respite from the heaviness; but the events will compel one to turn page after page as the suspense mounts. After all, this is a very good story.

Alys is not a historical figure or someone significant in history to be molded according to factual limitations (like some in Gregory’s work – i.e. Anne Boleyn, Katherine of Aragon, et al.). She is the author’s free creation, and therefore shaped to the writer’s unlimited fancy. It is through her, I have come to see and respect Gregory’s remarkable talent in character development.

Alys is a 16-year old who is innately passionate and self-centered, a survivor with an independent streak. With these qualities, the author sets her in a period of gender prejudice and oppression, and throws trial after trial where her character is forced to choose between an expedient but immoral action and an arduously virtuous one. Realistically enough, the character chooses the easier paths; so, with each choice, Gregory chronicles how godly innocence can degrade to vulgar debasement.

The transformation is done gradually and very subtly so that the shift is believable. If this is Philippa Gregory’s aim, then she has succeeded quite well. Moreover, she has created a character that we may not want to see in ourselves but may be lurking, untested and untried, inside many of us with great instincts for self-preservation. Perhaps, she may be challenging us to judge Alys, then to answer truthfully, “If you were in her shoes…”

For those readers who don’t like pervasive pessimistic themes, stay away from this book. This will simply depress you. But for those who don’t mind immersing in such joylessness, reading this will reward you with Gregory’s sheer talent for characterization and of course, you get to read an amazingly good story.

As for the book’s surprising conclusion, again it will be the reader’s judgment that will render it a satisfying end or not. With this note, I’d like to say that A Wise Woman would be great material for your reading circle’s next discussion.

My Mark : Outstanding

This book may not be to everyone’s taste and many may disagree with my mark. If you do so, I would appreciate your opinions.

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