The Tutor by Andrea Chapin

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The Tutor by Andrea Chapin

Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: England 1590: Young widow and secret Roman Catholic Katherine is living with her uncle when she encounters the new family tutor: a certain Shakespeare. A slightly lengthy will she/won't she historical love story vies with a really fascinating look at the dangers of Elizabethan Catholicism and the latter wins.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: March 2015
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0241968161

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Katherine de L'Isle comes to live with her uncle Sir Edward's family at Lufanwal Hall when she's widowed after only a year of marriage. A fine home and the bosom of the family should be a place of safety but not in this case. This is 1590 in Queen Elizabeth's protestant England and Katherine's family are Roman Catholics; something they thought was a secret till their priest is found murdered on their land. Life must go on though. The children of the household are raised and educated almost on the periphery of Katherine's vision until she meets their tutor, a certain Midlands' glove maker's son called William Shakespeare.

American writer Andrea Chapin comes to novel authorship with an impressive pedigree built as a literary magazine editor (which includes The Paris Review) and a writer in such US publications as More and Martha Stewart Living.

Now, for her debut novel Andrea offers a couple of interesting hypotheses. What if, (hypothesis one) when the London theatres closed for the Plague in the 16th century, the Bard of Avon became a tutor rather than going home and (hypothesis two) what if he found a muse? The framework for this idea is a fictional Catholic household in a land where Queen Elizabeth I was showing a brutal dislike for Catholics, adding excitement and an edge to the romantic side of the story.

Indeed, in many ways this is almost a historical and much better written version of Eastenders. Katherine has had a tough life, having been left widowed and childless at 30 but for those around her, it's going to get a lot worse. Having said that, as tragedy crowds her, Katherine is amazingly brave and takes refuge in her uncle's library. It's this attraction to literature and words that attracts her to Will, although he's interested in something further south than Katherine's brain.

Indeed, this may not be a bodice ripper and the language is restrained while the action non-graphic, but it's the bawdy (and fun) Will we meet. The capricious, self-centred, original good time lad has decided to be somewhere else when his world thinks he's with the missus. He even adds his own take to tutoring, telling the lads that they don't need the subject of which he has no knowledge. But will love change him? History attests that Katherine doesn't become a second Mrs S, but there's room in his life for a permanent concubine if…

Shakespeare isn't the only real person to crop up. Also making an appearance is Robert Smythson, master mason and creator of both Longleat House and (only a couple of miles from where I'm writing this) the Batman movie mansion of Woollaton Hall. Katherine is a bit cold and Andrea's Shakespeare makes me smirk but Smythson I love. This is a very talented man of his time with a vulnerability that just cries out for a hug.

All in all The Tutor is as mixed a blessing as its characters. Despite Shakespeare's colourful presence the love story is lengthy and not completely enthralling due to the fact I couldn't get on with the comparatively unemotional Katherine. However, via Katherine's family we're brought a convincing picture of the courage Catholics needed to live with their convictions on a daily basis while waiting for that Gestapo-like knock at the door. More of that and less of the widow and this would have been a resounding 5* so I'm definitely looking forward to Andrea's next offering.

Thank you Penguin for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If you'd like to read more historical fiction about Will S, we recommend The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan and Will by Christopher Rush. If it's the era and sense of danger you're drawn to, we also recommend The Queen's Man by Rory Clements.

Buy The Tutor by Andrea Chapin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Tutor by Andrea Chapin at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Tutor by Andrea Chapin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Tutor by Andrea Chapin at Amazon.com.


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