It is 1535 and Agnes Peppin, daughter of a West-country butcher, has been banished, leaving her family home in disgrace to live out the rest of her life cloistered behind the walls of Shaftesbury Abbey. While Agnes grapples with the complex rules and hierarchies of the sisterhood, King Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Head of the Church of England. Religious houses are being formally subjugated, monasteries dissolved, and the great Abbey is no exception to the purge. Cast out with her sisters, Agnes is at last free to be the master of her own fate. But freedom comes at a price as she descends into a world she knows little about, using her wits and testing her moral convictions against her need to survive – by any means necessary…(Synopsis taken from official press release by the publisher)
‘You must know that the life of the Abbey is shot through with dreams, fantasies and denial. And betrayal.’ (The Butcher’s Daughter by Victoria Glendinning)
Narrated as something of a memoir, The Butcher’s Daughter follows the title character herself – Agnes Peppin – during one of the most turbulent and uncertain times in English history. To begin with, I wasn’t entirely sold on her character becoming this strong, resilient woman the synopsis portrays her to be. She enters this tale as a mere teenager, forced to leave her life behind due to having an illegitimate baby and during these chapters I found her to be overly passive, innocent and childlike – as you would expect a girl of her era to act, I suppose. However, upon reaching the conclusion of this book, she’s turned into a completely new woman. The amount of stress and upheaval she is forced to endure throughout this novel is incredible, and I urge anyone who is into feminism and strong female characters to take a look at her gripping story – as long as you’re open to historical fiction of course.
The descriptions of the settings were beautifully written, and as with books based on real life places and events, you can gain an even bigger understanding of where the story follows by going online and looking for yourself – something I did regularly. Not only that, but there’s only so much information an author can give you during the course of a novel without it feeling too much like a textbook and less like a work of fiction, so being able to do your own research about certain events weaved into The Butcher’s Daughter was a lot of fun. Although, it must be said that Glendinning definitely did a fantastic job of making sure the reader was informed enough to not get lost along the way.
Overall, I found the plot to be incredibly immersive and as someone who doesn’t read a lot of historical fiction, I do occasionally find it hard to grasp the language, especially combined with the real historical events. I didn’t have that problem here aside from maybe the first couple of chapters but I can easily put that down to a a bit of a literary culture shock, if you will.
Whilst I do think my enjoyment of this novel would have been higher if I read historical fiction regularly, I don’t think you need to be a lover of the genre to like this. Perhaps the only thing you will need is a willingness to branch out and do a bit of research and have at least a mild interest in the Tudor period. I genuinely thought this was a fantastic novel and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Not only that, but my head feels wonderfully full of newfound knowledge and any book that makes me feel like I’ve learnt something valuable is one I think people need to pick up!
Authority belongs to men. Their authority cannot be denied because it is not an idea. It is fact. Yet I do not wish I were a man. So many men are like children, they cannot think beyond their own concerns and desires, and they tailor their opinions and allegiances to serve the same.’ (The Butcher’s Daughter by Victoria Glendinning)
Review written by Tilly.
Disclaimer – We received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts given are entirely our own.
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Victoria Glendinning is a British biographer, critic, broadcaster and novelist. Born in Sheffield and educated at Oxford where she studied modern languages, she later worked for The TLS. She is an Honorary Vice-President of English PEN, winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, was appointed a CBE in 1998, is the twice winner of the Whitbread Biography award and Vice-President of the Royal Society of Literature. A regular contributor of articles and reviews to various UK newspapers and magazines, she is also the author of three widely acclaimed novels: The Grown-Ups, Electricity, and Flight. (Author bio provided by Duckworth)
This blog post has been written as part of a blog tour. We are the fourth stop, but we’ll provide links to other reviewers posts as they go live. Many thanks to Duckworth Books for allowing us to participate.