Skip to main content

Review: A Plague on Both Your Houses, by Susanna Gregory

Matthew Bartholomew is a physician and instructor at Michaelhouse, one of the Colleges at the young Cambridge University. His views of medicine are rather unorthodox for the 14th century, and he is viewed with suspicion by other doctors. On the eve of the Black Death, in the summer of 1348, the Master of Michaelhouse, Sir John, turns up dead. Everyone assumes it must be suicide, but Bartholomew has his doubts—especially since more bodies turn up. Bartholomew’s investigation leads him to something much better—a potential plot by Oxford scholars to undermine the credibility of Cambridge, perhaps?

Bartholomew is one of the more interesting and complicated detectives I’ve come across in a long while. He’s not limited by the medical practices of the period (as we’re told early on, his training was unorthodox, too), so he does seem a bit too modern at times (for example, in addition to being a physician, he also practices surgery, which at that time was practiced by barbers). I liked the plot; and as some who studied the 14th century as a student (even wrote a paper on the Black Death), I was interested by Bartholomew’s appraisal of the pestilence. He may have been trained by eastern doctors, but Bartholomew is just as in the dark about the bubonic plague as anybody else is in 14th century England. My interest was in the effect the plague had on the medieval mindset, so I was interested to see how people reacted: from self-flagellation, to going stark, staring mad, to throwing caution to the wind and enjoying full-tilt the pleasures of life, it’s all seen in this novel. Well done, there.

There are a lot of anachronisms, though: during the riot at the beginning of the book, the townspeople are referred to as “townies: (a mid-19th century invention); the author has her characters refer to themselves as “medieval”; the characters call the Black Death the “Death,” when people of the time would have called it pestilence (the term “Black Death” is 19th century in origin). Another character arrives” in the nick of time” to save our hero, hostels are arranged into “cartels,” and doctor are referred to repeatedly as “medics.” Bartholomew also expresses surprise when a tinker’s widow tells him she can’t read or write. The author seems a little bit confused by the medieval difference between a surgeon and a physician, and for a doctor, Bartholomew is awfully squeamish about the human body. Also, Bartholomew himself admits that he doesn’t know what brought the pestilence in, but he has a strange fascination with the rats scurrying about in the College…. these anachronisms aren’t obscure, a simple search in the OED will give you the origins of most of these words. But other than the anachronisms, I really enjoyed the plot of the novel, and look forward to seeing more of Matthew Bartholomew.


nishitak said…
Just stumbled upon your blog after a lot of book-blog surfing. Love your reviews...

I recently read another book "World Without End" by Ken Follett, which also describes in detail the social effects of the black plague in quite a bit of detail. If you haven't read, it is definitely worth a read...

My review of it is up at

I am definitely bookmarking your blog for further reading :)

Popular posts from this blog

2015 Reading

1. The Vanishing Witch, by Karen Maitland
2. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
3. Texts From Jane Eyre, by Mallory Ortberg
4. Brighton Rock, by Graham Green
5. Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey
6. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
7. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
8. A Movable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
9. A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
10. Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote
11. Maggie-Now, by Betty Smith

1. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
3. Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, by Cynthia Lee
4. Music For Chameleons, by Truman Capote
5. Peyton Place, by Grace Metalious
6. Unrequited, by Lisa Phillips
7. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
8. A Lost Lady, by Willa Cather

1. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
2. Love With a Chance of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. Miss Buncle's Book, by DE Stevenson
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garc…

2016 Reading

1. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
3. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
4. Liar: A Memoir, by Rob Roberge

1. The Forsyte Saga, by John Galsworthy
2. Girl in the Woods, by Aspen Matis
3. She Left Me the Gun, by Emma Brockes
4. Because of the Lockwoods, by Dorothy Whipple
5. The Chronology of Water, by Lidia Yuknavitch
6. To Show and to Tell, by Philip Lopate

1. Fierce Attachments, by Vivian Gornick
2. Too Brief a Treat, by Truman Capote
3. On the Move: a Life, by Oliver Sacks
4. The Go-Between, by LP Hartley
5. The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr
6. Giving Up the Ghost, by Hilary Mantel
7. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
8. The Great American Bus Ride, by Irma Kurtz
9. An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Radfield Jamison
10. A Widow's Story, by Joyce Carol Oates
11. So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder
12. The Liar's Club, by Mary Karr
13. An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard
14. So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972Originally published: 1944My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press)How I acquired my copy:, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…