Friday, September 13, 2013

I, Elizabeth

1994, first edition, from Doubleday
Rosalind Miles
I, Elizabeth
Original and purchase price unknown
Hardcover with split spine

This feels like a missed opportunity.  Miles takes Elizabeth I from age 10 to about 67, but she puts too much emphasis on Elizabeth's romance-novel-like romances with men who trip her Electra Complex, and not enough on the politics of the time.  Also, fairly far into the novel, Miles is off by a year or two, which matters particularly since this is when Elizabeth is in early adolescence.  (Miles even gets Henry VIII's death year wrong, and that's not exactly a hard fact to check.) 

Additionally, there were two aspects of Miles's and/or Elizabeth's writing style and/or personality that grated on me.  One is that Elizabeth often quotes Shakespeare, without acknowledgement.  Are we meant to think that a poet-playwright whose name the queen couldn't even remember had somehow become quotable to that level by 1600?  Or is Miles implying that the queen wrote Shakespeare's plays?  At least Elizabeth could conceivably make these sort of references, but what about the "shitting bull" pun about the Pope?  It's not just the crudity, but why is Miles also punning about a Native American leader who wouldn't even be born for another three centuries?

That another annoying aspect is not unrelated.  There's a disgust throughout with the human body (unless it belongs to a handsome man of course).  This is at its worst in the descriptions of her half-sister, Mary I.  There's also some gratuitous homophobia (gratuitous in the sense that it's somewhat off-topic and adds nothing to the plot or character development), but I can't say that heterosexuality comes off much better.

What did I like?  Well, oddly enough, I liked that Elizabeth is an unreliable or at least naive narrator, since she'll size up a situation and then be dead wrong.  True, this goes against the image of her as canny and savvy, but it worked in the novel.  Also, I thought Miles did a nice job of showing the passage of time (when she could get the year right), and how Elizabeth adapted to changing circumstances.  The book is never boring, even if it's often irritating.  I'd actually remembered it as better than Margaret George's Henry VIII novel, but I think that's because I still like Elizabeth better than her father.  Still, she deserves a better first-person story than this.

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