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Have you ever tried to live in a home where builders are undertaking major work? If so you will probably relate to a lot of the problems described in the book, even though it is set hundreds of years ago. Hopefully this hasn't involved any sudden deaths though, or the threat of an invasion from across The Channel.
Most books by Reay Tannahill are serious looks at history, whether fact (including Sex in History and Food in History) or historical fiction (including The Seventh Son about Richard III and Fatal Majesty about Mary Queen of Scots). Then, towards the end of her life, she wrote two great humorous historical fiction books. Sadly, she died in 2007, aged 77.
This plot centres on the formidable Dame Constance and her family. She has run the castle and estates of her family at Vine Regis (in the south of England) since her husband died. As the book explains, in these times, this is usually the job of the most senior man in the family, but her son, Gervase, prefers more adventurous occupations, although still using the family home as a base.
The many well portrayed characters, including a good mix of over-confident, diffident, strong, weak, worldly-wise and innocent, made me think that this is the sort of humour that would suit Edmund Blackadder well (as played by Rowan Atkinson in the BBC sit-com).
The cast of characters widens in the sequel Having the Decorators In. As well as family, friends and neighbours, the reader is introduced to a variety of people from medieval life, as they seek refuge at the castle in times of trouble.
Although the plot is fiction, the background to it will give readers an accurate idea of what it was like to live in medieval times.
I found reading this funny and well-written historical fiction book an excellent way to relax. I believe the sequel, Having the Decorators In, is equally good, but I recommend that you read them in order, as the second one contains plot spoilers for the first.
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Headline Review (28 Jun 2007)