I have been reading historical fiction for over 40 years. (I began at the age of 10 with Jean Plaidy - who still rules.) In particular, the first 15-20 or so years were particularly focused on England during the Tudor era (not including Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, to my embarassment).
I hovered around this book for a couple of years after it came out. One reservation was that I was unsure as to whether someone could give me a new perspective into the events of those years. Secondly, I had not read anything by Bennett and there were plenty of books by authors I was familiar with in the bookstore. (I wasn't a member of PBS back then, although I imagine this novel was on peoples' waiting lists for quite a long time - probably still is.) Thirdly, how interesting could Thomas More and Hans Holbein be?
Eventually, of course, I did buy the book and - Oh MY!!! Bennett gives you the perspective of a fly on the wall of a most unusual household. Her research is astounding. Secondly, although not much seems to be really known about Hans Holbein, she gives a convincing portrayal of one hypothesis about the man's personality. Thirdly (yes, it's true, I count too much!), it gives the reader a fascinating glimpse into the world of artistic history and symbolism.
The raison d'etre, as it were, for this plot lies in the famous Holbein portrayal (actually, portrayals) of the More menage. (Why am I adding all this French? I don't even SPEAK French!)
Now Bennett adds a few twists and turns about the painting, historical characters and events. Interestingly enough, the tale is quite believable. This is especially amazing in my eyes because she beautifully blends theory with reality in a stunningly convincing way.
There are many fictional tales written about some of the characters in this novel (and non-fiction research, as well) which contradict this text. Yet, even though my intellect tells me that it is highly unlikely that many of the events in this book actually happened, my emotions have completely fallen for Bennett's take on them.
Whether or not you agree with her is up to you. But in my opinion, Bennett is a master novelist.
A wonderful book.
Meg, the adopted daughter of Sir Thomas More, narrates the story of a famous Holbein paiinting of the More family. This is a wonderfully written historical novel about the More family, set in the religously tumultous 16th century England at the beginning of the Portestant Reformation. I enjoyed the beautifully descriptive language of the author, though her sentences at times were very long with many commas! The story is a blend of historical fact and imagination, mystery, passion, love and cruelty.
Surprisingly good book. Couldn't put it down. I love reading about the Tudor era, this was just another view point during the rise of Anne Boleyn and the fall of Thomas More. Very good book. Not too religious, but there is a bit of scandal. Highly recommend.
Portrait of an Unknown Woman is actually centered around a known historical figure, Meg Giggs, who was the adopted daughter of a more famous historical figure, Sir Thomas More. Vanora Bennett has built an intricate storyline around a theory inspired by a painting. As this story starts, Hans Holbein has come to the home of Sir Thomas More near the height of his power in Henry VIII's court to paint a family portrait. Through mostly a first-person narration by Meg, an intelligent, educated, and headstrong girl, the reader is on the sidelines of England's historical break from the Catholic Church as Henry divorces Katherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. Several years later, Holbein paints the family again, when More has fallen into royal disfavor.The story gives a vivid sense of the religious upheaval of the period. However, I found the pacing uneven. Many pages are devoted to a short period of time at the beginning and the end, but years goes by relatively unnoticed in the middle. It's unclear why Meg speaks in the first person, while third-person narration is used to focus on other characters, especially Holbein. I wasn't totally engaged with Meg and the romantic story lines, but enjoyed how many strands of Tudor and Plantagenet history and historical speculation were neatly tied together.