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A Net for Small Fishes: ‘The Thelma and Louise of the seventeenth century’ Lawrence Norfolk

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From that moment on he is obsessed, a crazed visionary repeatedly depicting the scene and the unknown figure within it who filled his view at the moment of impact. Turner was the subject of the anonymous play The Widow, and features in Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s The World Tossed at Tennis. Based on the true scandal that rocked the court of James I, A Net for Small Fishes is the most gripping novel you’ll read this year: an exhilarating dive into the pitch-dark waters of the Jacobean court. A love affair, an attempted poisoning, an annulment, women trying to manuever fate and take their future in their own hands would lead to a court case that resonated throughout the land. I love any courtroom books, and historical fiction so thought I would love it, but it was too much of a challenging read for me at the moment.

The context was an interesting to me too- it had never occurred to me that the people who travelled with James I ‘s court would feel like and be treated as unwelcome foreigners by many.Beneath the dread I feel a core of heat: it is joy at the actions we took, the chaos we created, the possibilities we saw, the lives we led; it is love.

The epilogue at the end seemed a little unnecessary to me, but it tied up a few loose ends, especially for those not aware of the historical events. An important part of the action concerns a gay male romantic triangle, so the female narrator character is doubly distanced. Frankie is a member of the powerful and influential Catholic family in the Jacobean court of fierce aristocratic and religious rivalries, enemies everywhere and where favourites rise and fall at the whim of a insecure King. As the Countess of Essex, Frankie suffered physical and mental abuse from her husband in a marriage fraught with family loathing, religious hatred, and partisan suspicion.

The royal courts at the time were places of deadly political machinations where winners held power and wealth, while the losers lost land, position, and often their lives. In a Net for Small Fishes, Lucy Jago paints a credible account of the actual events surrounding the death and trial over Sir Thomas Overbury but places the two women at the centre of the story and addresses an imaginatively unique perspective they faced. The fact that all of the action is filtered through Anne’s voice means that some of Frankie’s escapades have a slightly secondhand air to them, and Carr never really convinces as a replacement for the vile Essex. Throughout the novel, surface detail is deftly handled to convey deeper anxieties and shifts in attitude. Ultimately, though, this is the story of a female friendship that transgressed moral and social norms in a misogynist society.

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