REVIEW: “The Time of Singing” by Elizabeth Chadwick
The Time of Singing
CHALLENGE(S): Royal Mistresses Challenge, Year of the Historical Challenge
Finished on 8 Apr 2010
I began this book at the beginning of March, but found it difficult to finish. Not only does it weigh in at a whopping 500 pages, but I found the story itself pretty dry and hard to maintain any interest in.
The back cover asserts that this is a story about a woman, Ida de Tosney, who has to make a heartbreaking sacrifice. The mistress of King Henry II and mother of his son, she longs to escape the court, and her chance comes when she meets and is attracted to Roger Bigod, son of a powerful Earl who comes to the court to settle a dispute with his half-brothers. In order to follow her heart and marry Roger, however, Ida must leave her young son behind.
In point of fact, however, this isn’t so much a story about Ida having to leave her son (which might have been interesting), but a story about Ida becoming Henry’s mistress, having a son, leaving her son, marrying Roger, having more children, pining for her son, and so on. Personally, I think the author was trying to include far too much in the novel, most of which was unnecessary and did not form any kind of interesting narrative. Perhaps this is simply a consequence of writing about real historical people and therefore having to conform to the facts, but I think it would have benefited from a sharper focus and a tighter plotline.
As far as the writing goes, Chadwick is technically competent, but I felt overall that the book lacked soul. She tells us a lot more than she shows, and is so intent on transferring her vision in exacting detail that she doesn’t allow the reader much room to interpret or interact with the story. I also felt the main characters were very much Mary Sues. They were both good people, who made the right choices, always had good intentions, and always did the right thing. Anyone who opposed them was necessarily a bad person by default, and/or described as physically ugly. The conflicts throughout the story felt manufactured and seemed decidedly trivial, even though they shouldn’t have. I got the sense that these were cardboard people being put through the motions; I simply could not sympathise with them. Although the story purported to cover their lives over several years, they didn’t change at all, while their children seemed merely background characters, added into the narrative whenever the author needed to remind us that time had passed, or to generate more ‘conflict’ for the main characters.
I will say that Chadwick has a clear grasp of the time period and a knack for period-appropriate dialogue without clunkiness or artificiality. I also appreciated the reconciliation with Roger’s half-brother near the end, and I am sorry we didn’t get to see more of his character arc as I found it very interesting. Otherwise, I’m afraid the story simply did not resonate for me at all, and had I not needed to read it as part of these challenges I wouldn’t have bothered finishing it. Not one I’d recommend.