I've already posted a few pre-reading thoughts about The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower here and it's probably a good job I did because now that I've finished it I'm speechless and bereft and at great risk of becoming a Bayeux bore.
Every book I've read recently has earned its 5* for reasons various, not least that each one will be worth every penny and more that you or the library may pay for them. So don't for one minute think that my free copy of this one from Snowbooks might make me any less critical of it.
But that said, what's not to love and adore about this book?
I've made it last over two weeks because I couldn't bear it to end and now it has I was wandering around feeling a bit lost about what to pick up next until I opened The Bayeux Tapestry The Life Story of a Masterpiece by Carola Hicks.
This is like moving onto Volume Two so I'm alright for a while.
Prepare to plunge into the world of January 1067 and the life and loves of Mr Charisma himself, bishop Odo of Bayeux, brother of William the Conqueror.Let's quickly establish that if there was a film of the book this would be Alan Rickman's part if I was casting, so now you know.Others may have different ideas.
It's a clever mix of slightly blurred actual history and fiction that Sarah Bower has created, and I was smitten from the very first page on finding myself right in the thick of battle, fire-tipped arrows and severed hands the lot.It was clear this was going to be a visceral read in all senses of the word but all against the backdrop of the creation of 240 feet of embroidered history which made me ponder afresh Odo's suggestion
"it is not what we see but the way we look at it that matters".
Sarah Bower is at great pains to point out throughout the book that it is not in fact technically a tapestry but an embroidery, and with that all the connotations of women's work.It is the women who have designed and created this view of history and inserted along the way all those extra things that the female eye sees.So few visual portrayals of history represented through the eyes of women but The Bayeux Tapestry would seem to be one. Carola Hicks is now busy correcting all my assumptions with regard to all this so more on that soon.
The research base for The Needle in the Blood is impeccable; you feel confident in what you are reading but it lays lightly on the whole which is always pleasing. Unobtrusive and all adding layers of interest to the plot without overtly implying that the author may have spent hours and hours in a library or on a cross channel ferry going over to Bayeux to have a look and then insisting that I am told every single detail.
It is indeed a love story of the highest order as Odo falls for Gytha in a most un-bishoplike way.You can only feel for the poor chap as he bewails his fate
"...unprepared, hopelessly unarmed; I never expected to fall in love, with you or your damned country"
Loyal to King Harold right down to her toenails and pretty upset about his final demise and the fate of his equipment (you'll have to read, I can't elaborate but it's on a par with Edward II's fundamental problems alluded to here recently) Gytha takes an almighty amount of persuading to fall into the plumped up fur-lined feather bed with a Norman. Once there it's all a terrible bother to extricate herself but the will-she won't-she dilemma as Gytha and Odo work up to an honourable finale makes good, solid, ignore-the-world reading. Meanwhile as a backdrop the tapestry is an ongoing piece of work, as we say in the NHS.
Odo's final words, as he reflects on the completion of his great commission, summing it all up perfectly
"a strip of moony ribbon pierced and puckered with the story of his life, its lies and moments of truth, its fears, its compromises, its moments of shame and savagery, its loves. His great enterprise"
Beyond that, if you want to read intelligent and incisive thoughts on The Needle in the Blood head here because all I can do is rave and swoon.
I loved every single word of this book so if you want a great read, an insight into the creation of this amazing embroidery, a fascinating journey through turbulent historical times and can cope with a bit of amputation here and there, look not a pikestaff further.
I can't make it any plainer than that.