Title: Learwife
Author: J. R. Thorp
Cover design: Gill Heeley
Publisher: Canongate Books
Genre: Historical fiction
Book format: Paperback
Sweet Strawberries: Sweet StrawberrySweet StrawberrySweet StrawberrySweet StrawberrySweet Strawberry

Description:  Word has come, King Lear is dead.  His three daughters too, broken in battle.  But somone has survived: Lear’s queen.
Though her grief and rage threaten to crack the earth open, she knows she must seek answers.  Why was she exiled?  What has happened to Kent, her oldest friend?  And what will become of her now?

*Free copy provided by publisher for review…

Review:  Wow, what an emotional and amazing read!  Bad news comes to an abbey where King Lear’s wife has been staying, King Lear is dead, along with his three daughters Goneril, Reagan and Cordelia.  Lear’s wife, the queen, hears the news and makes a plan to leave the abbey but the abbess asks her to wait , and then wait some more.  It soon becomes clear to the queen that she is being stopped from leaving, but is wish to depart the abbey so close to winter the best thing for the queen to do?

This was such an emotional read for me and I’m literally crying right now after finishing it, it was that powerful!  The story begins with a brief page explaining what has happened to King Lear and his daughters.  This was helpful as I have never seen or read King Lear beforeand it was everything I needed to understand the story of his wife.  After the news comes of their deaths Lear’s wife, the queen, wants to leave the abbey to journey south and find their graves so she can mourn them properly, but things aren’t so easy, the abbess keeps asking her to stay, and it soon becomes clear to the queen that she’s being forcibly stopped from leaving without knowing why.

The story is so interesting.  The queen has lived in the abbey for many years, hidden away and forced to stay.  She has lived with Lear’s wishes for her to stay there, but once he dies she wants to leave and find out what happened to her family.  The book is described as being a lyrical/poetic novel and it is that, but unlike some lyrical stories I’ve read, this one really drew me in from the start, the writing and descriptions of what is happening, the queen’s thoughts on certain things and the way things are being described being so vivid and interesting and not at all difficult to read.  Some people have found reading the lyrical novel difficult or slow (according to some reviews I’ve read), But the lyrical aspect was never difficult for me to read and instead I found myself flying through the pages, engrossed in the story.

The queen’s plans to leave are soon put on hold when a terrible sickness strikes the abbey and the whole place is put into quarantine.  I found this aspect of the book so interesting as what happens next with the nuns of the abbey was interesting in how dark things became.  I like how the queen narrates this story and how certain situations in the abbey make her mind wander back into her past where she recalls events that happened with her children and with Lear.  I like the mention of her first husband, before Lear, and what happened to her throughout her marriage to Lear.  It was interesting and so emotional, especially when you start to find hints of what went wrong and how she ended up abandoned in the abbey and unable to see her daughters for so long.

The story is filled with a lot of emotion.  I really felt for the queen with what happens to her.  The story is good throughout, building to a good ending, albeit a sad one for me.  The ending is both happy and sad.  In some ways it’s such a brilliant and fitting end for the queen, what finally happens with her and what she discovers is so sad, but at the same time it’s ultimately a good ending for her and you really feel emotional after finishing this book!   To be honest I felt so sad after reading this.  I always prefer endings that are happy, but this one, although there is some happiness in it, it’s also quite sad too and to be honest I can’t fault it for how powerful it is.  Unanswered questions are resolved and there is a peace to the ending, a sort of happiness, although it’s definitely very sad too, especially after she discovers a truth about one particular character.

There is very occasional swearing in the book and some deaths happening but nothing really too upsetting.  In fact you might find it more upsetting given the way the book is written and how powerful the words are, but there’s nothing else too upsetting in this book, other than the ending which I still have mixed feelings about.  The descriptions in the story are so beautiful, really evoking so many emotions and the setting is so vivid in my mind.  There are quite a few sad moments in the story, ultimately what has happened to the queen and others like Ruth is sad, but it’s a fitting ending to this powerful novel, and gives a voice to a character from Shakespeare’s play who we never hear anything about.

I would certainly recommend Learwife to anyone interested in reading a powerful and emotional novel written in a beautiful way.  You don’t have to have any prior knowledge of Shakespeare’s King Lear to enjoy this book, indeed as I said, I had never seen or read the play before and knew nothing about the original English king it was based on, though this did make me interested in researching Shakespeare’s play and the real King Leir.  It’s a beautiful, emotional and powerful read, and even if the lyrical nature of it is a little difficult for you to read, I’d say just stick with it as it really does get more and more interesting the further on you read, especially after the quarantine happens and there are tests for the nuns.  If you do read this though, be prepared for an emotional, tearful and beautiful ending!

Waht do you think of this book?  Have you ever read or seen King Lear?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂