Thursday, August 27, 2009

Starred review for SUNFLOWERS

Just want to point out that my friend Sheramy Bundrick's novel about Vincent Van Gogh, SUNFLOWERS (Avon A, October 2009), received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly! Sheramy gave me an ARC of the book and I was completely drawn into this story of Vincent's years in Provence, told from the viewpoint of Rachel, the prostitute to whom he presented his ear. I'll post a review and hopefully an interview with Sheramy closer to the release date. In the meantime, mark your calendars for October 13.

Way to go, Sheramy! Félicitations!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Novel Enterprise

Although I write novels set in sixteenth century France, the novel, as a genre, was unknown during this period. The Middle Ages had witnessed the flowering of narrative poetry--epics like the Chanson de Roland or Les quatre fils Aymon, romances like Chrétien de Troyes's Yvain ou le Chevalier au lion--and the development of the historical chronicle, such as those of Froissart, but the form of the novel--a long fictional work of prose depicting characters, settings, and events imagined by the author--would not develop until the seventeenth century.

Of course, people have always told stories, especially in pre-literate times when individuals would gather and tell tales to entertain themselves. During the Renaissance, humanist scholars began to transcribe such tales, often setting them in a mimetic framework. A prime example, which served as the model for countless other works, is Boccaccio's Decameron, composed in the early 1350's in the Italian vernacular. The frame story of the Decameron depicts ten young people taking refuge in the Italian countryside from the plague; each day, for ten days, the characters each recount a tale to while away the hours. The first example of such a structure in French is Les Cent nouvelles nouvelles, or "One Hundred New Tales" compiled by Antoine de la Sale around 1456 at the court of Philippe le Bon. Numerous noblemen contributed tales to the collection, although many are borrowed directly from Boccaccio and other Italian conteurs. These often bawdy tales give tantalizing glimpses into the lives of fifteenth-century noble and middle classes.

While the Cent nouvelles nouvelles lacks a frame story, the importance of the mimetic context grew during the sixteenth century. At mid-century, Noël du Fail, a rural aristocrat from Brittany, penned three collections of tales, Les Propos rustiques (1547), Les Baliverneries d'Eutrapel (1548) and the Contes et propos d'Eutrapel (1585). In these works, the frame story depicts in realistic detail the social milieu of the rural peasantry as well as that of the upper classes. Du Fail focuses on the linguistic habits of each group; his tales have been called "dialogue tales" because they strive to recreate the speech patterns of each social group in a conversational way. In their expanding situational context and attention to realistic detail, Du Fail's tales prefigure the larger narrative and pyschological scope of the novel.

Of course, the most well-known of the French tale collections is that of Marguerite de Navarre, L'Heptaméron, published posthumously in 1558, although it had circulated in manuscript form for years. In this collection of seventy-two tales, the interplay between the tales and the tellers is critical. Following Boccaccio's lead, Marguerite strands a group of travelers in an abbey during a torrential storm; each day, the members of the group tell tales to pass the time until the bridge is rebuilt. However, in Marguerite's collection, the characters' commentary on the tales and the relationships that blossom during the conversations that link the tales together became just as, if not more, important than the tales themselves. Marguerite develops a distinct personality for each of her tellers and manipulates their interaction with great psychological insight. Her attention to the psychology of the characters heralds the birth of the novel, which is traditionally attributed, in the French tradition, to Madame de Lafayette's La Princesse de Clèves (1678), a novel set, ironically, in the sixteenth century at the end of the reign of Henri II.

I love the fact that the first French novel is an historical one.

Monday, August 17, 2009

And the Winners Are...

Robinbird and Stuart MacAllister! Each of you has won a copy of Philippa Gregory's new novel, THE WHITE QUEEN, courtesy of Touchstone Books. Please send an email to juliannedouglas05 [at] sbcglobal [dot] net with your mailing information. Many thanks to all who entered and to all the new followers of the blog. I hope you'll return often and join in our discussions.

For those who didn't win, Ms. Gregory's book releases today and will be easy to find in most bookstores. I have a copy that I plan to review in September, so check back then and share your thoughts.

Many thanks to Ms. Gregory and Kelly at Touchstone for making this contest possible!

In the coming weeks, you'll find here on the blog: an interview with author Jules Watson and review of her latest book, THE SWAN MAIDEN; a guest post, giveaway and reader question-and-answer with bestselling author Michelle Moran; the last segment in the story of King François's captivity; a post about his first mistress, the elegant Françoise de Foix; and an Italian ambassador's scathing critique of François's showcase, the château of Fontainebleau. Come back soon!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Book Giveaway: THE WHITE QUEEN by Philippa Gregory

I am pleased to announce that I will be giving away two copies of Philippa Gregory's new novel, THE WHITE QUEEN. The novel, the first in a series set in fifteenth-century England during the Wars of the Roses, focuses on Edward Elizabeth Woodville, Queen Consort of King Edward IV.

Amazon describes the book: "THE WHITE QUEEN tells the story of a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition who, catching the eye of the newly crowned boy king, marries him in secret and ascends to royalty. While Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for the success of her family, her two sons become central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing princes in the Tower of London whose fate is still unknown. From her uniquely qualified perspective, Philippa Gregory explores this most famous unsolved mystery of English history, informed by impeccable research and framed by her inimitable storytelling skills." The website includes a Conversation with Philippa Gregory which explores, among other things, Ms. Gregory's switch to this new period in British history and the appeal of Elizabeth Woodville.

To enter the contest to win one of the books, please leave a comment telling me how many of Philippa Gregory's novels you have read. Become a follower of this blog and receive an additional entry! Contest closes at 11 pm PST on Monday, August 17; winners names will be posted on the novel's official release date, August 18. Check back to see if your name was drawn and if so, to provide me your mailing address. Copies will be sent directly from Touchstone, which graciously offered the books for giveaway. Good luck!

I hope to post a review of the book some time in September.