Original date of publication: 1951
My edition: 2009 (Touchstone)
Why I decided to read: Found it while browsing at B&N
How I acquired my copy: Bought at B&N with a giftcard, January 2010
The Lute Player is the story of Richard the Lionhearted, as told from the point of view of Blondel, the eponymous lute player; Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine; and Anna Apieta, crippled half sister to Richard’s wife, Berengaria. The novel focuses on Richard’s reign of England (a country he spent very little time in), especially the time he spent while on crusade. It’s hard to write about someone in English history who is so well-known and well-loved; what better way than to write his story from the point of view of the people who knew him best?
The book takes a while to get going—most of the beginning is devoted to Berengaria, hopelessly in love with a man who was more in love with the idea of reclaiming the Holy Land. In fact, the real action of the book begins with the crusade, which doesn’t actually happen until around page 300! Nonetheless, this novel is written in an engaging style, and many of the characters, especially the ones who are narrators, are well-defined. I feel as though Eleanor of Aquitaine is a difficult person to write about, much less put words into her mouth, and I think Lofts did an admirable job of writing as her. I found myself less sympathetic towards and understanding of Anna, mainly because of her self-deprecating attitude towards her condition and natural acceptance of her spinsterhood.
The book is a little long, however, and it gets wearying after a while. For a book that’s supposed to be about Richard, I got a feel more for some of the other characters—especially since Richard kept haring off at every opportunity. And the major event that happens that changes the relationship between Blondel and Richard isn’t described, only alluded to, so the awkwardness between them seemed a bit contrived. Still, I enjoyed this novel about the late-12th century—though I think there are better novels out there. And I hear that Sharon Kay Penman is in the midst of writing a book about Richard herself…