The Lord of Greenwich

Juliet Dymoke, 1980

The next in my personal Great Greenwich Book-a-thon, The Lord of Greenwich has taken me forever to wade through. It’s only a little paperback – and should have taken a day or so at most, but instead I have trawled it around with me all over the place, managing a mere couple of paragraphs at most whenever I opened the cover.

It suffers all the problems of fiction written about real events and real lives – that the characters are already set in stone and the outcome of major (and many minor) events is fixed. There are historical fiction writers who still seem to rise above these horrible constraints, but it must be very difficult not to just get the main facts down and write a bit of dialogue around them, which is, as far as I can see, exactly what Juliet Dymoke has had to do with The Lord of Greenwich. It’s a hiding for nothing, in my humble opinion.

Part of her Plantagenet series, it deals with Duke Humphrey (she spells it ‘Humfrey’ – probably rightly) and his life up to and partially including his time at Greenwich. I was particularly interested because I’ve been reading about Humph, and I was hoping to get some insight into his world.

Sadly, it just reads like bullet-points of his life, filled in with some conversation, very little of which adds much. Occasionally it gets a bit exciting – the battle of Agincourt, for example, but I would be extremely surprised if someone could make that dull. Humfrey plods his way through life, reminding us every so often that he’s a) a laydeez man and b) he likes books. Every so often he has dinner with Richard Whittington and his wife Alice (where are Dick’s cat, Bertha the Cook and the slop-scene, I want to know) or moves on to the next new love of his life – something unavoidable as that’s exactly what did happen – but it’s tough for a reader to sympathise with characters who waft in and out of a book.

The problems with writing about real life are really that although someone can have a extraordinary life – and Humphrey/ Humfrey’s life was never less than spectacular, it’s rarely in classic story-format. It’s quite often episodic, and some of the best bits are in the wrong place dramatically. Add some frankly rather flat dialogue and you have an unremarkable read. Sorry guys.

I found this a difficult book to enjoy but I’d like to be persuaded otherwise. Does anyone disagree with me? Have you read this and found it a sizzling page-turner?

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