I was a little daunted when ‘A Want of Kindness’ dropped on the doormat, sent my way by the Real Readers review programme. Whilst I enjoy a historical novel from time to time, I know very little about the Restoration Court and even less about Queen Anne, the book’s main protagonist. The three page ‘Dramatis Personae’ at the start of the book did little to allay my fears so I was pleasantly surprised upon starting the novel itself to discover a readable and absorbing novel about a fascinating and often overlooked period of English history.
We first meet Anna as a sickly ten-year old, an odd figure amidst the glitter of the bawdy Restoration court. Cards, sweetmeats and gossip with her Ladies of the Bedchamber make up the bulk of her life and Anne is blissfully oblivious to the intrigues and scandal of the court around her and unaware of the part she is to play as a pawn for the troubled Stuart dynasty. As she grows to maturity, we follow Anne as she marries and bears children, overcomes intense personal grief and withstands the political manoeuvrings of her closest family and friends to become heiress of England and the Queen that we know of today.
Joanne Limburg has clearly done her research when writing this novel. From the very start, Restoration England pours off the page and you get a real sense of life in the confines of the court. The chapters are interspersed with many of Anne’s genuine letters which give a real sense of her voice but also serve to show how naïve she is amidst the growing scandal that will result in her sister, Mary and brother-in-law, William, overthrowing their father, King James II, in order to keep England as a protestant nation. Anne’s passivity can be rather frustrating at times and it wasn’t until later in the novel that I began to really empathise with her, as she struggles under the pressure of producing the next Stuart heir. The constant miscarriages and stillbirths that Anne faces are heart-wrenching and you get a real sense of the devastating sadness that she must have faced in her life. Anne shows extraordinary courage in the face of repeated grief and in her later battles with personal illness, but you get the sense throughout the book that this is a woman better suited to a simpler life than that of heir apparent to the throne of England. Infuriating character traits, such as her over-reliance on her closest confidantes, are understandable when you read Anne’s story, in which friends are hard to find and everyone seems to be playing a game that she has little understanding of.
My sense from reading this book is that Anne did indeed suffer from ‘A Want of Kindness’ – her life was one often dominated by other people or by national pressures so much bigger than she was. Joanne Limburg has done an excellent job of giving her readers a sense of Anne’s character and world, although I could have done without some of the more obscure vignettes that make up the earlier sections of the novel and I’d have preferred the book to continue into her time as queen, rather than abruptly ending just before she takes the throne. Some of the fonts used in my advance copy were also rather off-putting, especially those used on Anne’s letters – a real annoyance as these are one of the most fascinating parts of the novel! Minor niggles aside however, this is a fascinating glimpse into a forgotten corner of English history and an absorbing portrayal of one Queen’s long and painful personal history. Fans of Alison Weir, Philippa Gregory and Sarah Dunant will find much to enjoy here, as will other readers who enjoy an absorbing delve into English history.
A Want of Kindness by Joanne Limburg is published by Atlantic Books and is available now from bookstores.
NB: This review has also appeared on Amazon and on Goodreads