Review of the reads – March 2023
Prize for the Fire
By Rilla Askew
When American Book Award winning author Rilla Askew learned of a little-known figure from 16th-century English history who shared her surname, she was intrigued. After discovering that Lincolnshire born Anne Askew was a fascinating, independent-minded religious martyr and writer who died at the stake in the last year of Henry VIII’s reign, the author was propelled to research her life.
After 20 years, Askew has produced an evocative work of biographical historical fiction. Prize for the Fire traces Anne’s life from her unhappy marriage in which she took her late sister’s place at age 15, to sharing her growing Protestant faith publicly in London, and finally the rejection of transubstantiation that led to her death.
and Friskney, Anne is driven by her religious calling to leave the constrictive world in which she lives, and especially her controlling husband.
Anne digs deep in a pigsty to retrieve a treasured copy of Coverdale, before later ascending the steps of Hampton Court Palace, called by Katheryn Parr herself to translate Erasmus as a gift for Henry. She follows in Henry’s footsteps in more ways than one: journeying to Lincoln on the occasion of a royal visit to the ‘brute and beastly’ shire – powerfully depicted from the crush of the crowds. And, unheard of at that time, attempting to divorce her husband. Amid such religious and political upheaval, however, Anne’s evangelism ultimately draws the wrath of the king’s privy council.
Attentive to detail, Askew avoids the cadences of the later King James Bible, using a type of formality and slang that will not jar, or alienate readers. Like the gospel translators who changed Anne’s life, Askew portrays a principled life and dramatic era in clear, vivid prose. The themes remain pertinent – the suppression of women’s voices and the struggle for freedom in thought and religion. Askew has found in one Lincolnshire woman a symbol of courage and independence we would do well to remember.
Published by University of Oklahoma Press, price £25.95
I’ll Never Tell
By Philippa East
When 16-year-old Chrissie Goodlight disappears following a performance at a Young Musician competition, the panic felt by her parents is deepened by the secrets that the event brings to the surface.
The third novel by Lincolnshire based writer and psychologist Philippa East, I’ll Never Tell explores abusive relationships, the ways in which class expectations shape lives, and the longing for achievement and contentment on one’s own terms.
Switching between the first-person perspective of Chrissie’s workaholic mother Julia, and stay-at-home stepdad Paul, whose narrative is told in the third person, the reader sees the Goodlights’ privileged lives in Oxford thrown into disarray.
Drugs are the ‘wrecking ball crashing through their elegantly papered wall’, but Paul knows with certainty that Chrissie would never have taken any. He also feels uneasy about a man unknown to him who has recently entered their lives, and is endlessly troubled by relations with Julia’s wealthy parents. In I’ll Never Tell, family members know too much that is unsaid, and yet do not know enough. They won’t reveal, and they can’t ‘tell’ what the matter is with those closest to them. There is not telling – and then there is not letting things show. But desperation drives people to discover for themselves. As the cracks deepen and the raw emotion rises in volume, the setting shifts to suitably wild, rugged terrain in Scotland.
East shows a psychologist’s insight, with ideas such as inherited traits, nature vs nurture, and pushy parents trying to shape children in their own image all brought to the fore. Still each character’s unique fears, flaws and conflicting desires are conveyed.
East creates intrigue and suspense, with things only glimpsed; hints dropped that point to violence and addiction. And in contrast to the words that go unspoken, there is striking repetition – the staccato of the same word in quick succession as a way of processing experience (‘She did it. She did it.’), and phrases that return (‘Like mother, like daughter.’) – like haunting refrains, their tone changing over time, revealing more and more.
Published by HQ, price £8.99