The Good Wife of Bath: A (Mostly) True Story - Karen Brooks
August 16, 2021
Goodreads Book Blurb:
In the middle ages, a poet told a story that mocked a strong woman. It became a literary classic. But what if the woman in question had a chance to tell her own version? Who would you believe?
England, The Year of Our Lord, 1364
When married off aged 12 to an elderly farmer, Eleanor Cornfed, who’s constantly told to seek redemption for her many sins, quickly realises it won’t matter what she says or does, God is not on her side – or any poor woman’s for that matter.
But Eleanor was born under the joint signs of Venus and Mars. Both a lover and a fighter, she will not bow meekly to fate. Even if five marriages, several pilgrimages, many lovers, violence, mayhem and wildly divergent fortunes (that swoop up and down as if spinning on Fortuna’s Wheel itself) do not for a peaceful life make.
Aided and abetted by her trusty god-sibling Alyson, the counsel of one Geoffrey Chaucer, and a good head for business, Eleanor fights to protect those she loves from the vagaries of life, the character deficits of her many husbands, the brutalities of medieval England and her own fatal flaw… a lusty appreciation of mankind. All while continuing to pursue the one thing all women want – control of their own lives.
This funny, picaresque, clever retelling of Chaucer’s ‘Wife of Bath’ from The Canterbury Tales is a cutting assessment of what happens when male power is left to run unchecked, as well as a recasting of a literary classic that gives a maligned character her own voice, and allows her to tell her own (mostly) true story.
***Thanks to NetGalley and HQ Fiction for an eARC of this book. The following review is my honest reflection on the text provided.
solid, good read:
I came into this with absolutely no knowledge about The Canterbury Tales, or really even Geoffrey Chaucer – unless his portrayal by Paul Bettany in A Knight’s Tale counts? My mother claims this is not an accurate representation, but I choose to disagree. Regardless, I absolutely loved The Good Wife of Bath.
There are two parts in this story. In the first, Eleanor is a captivating and scandalous narrator. She runs us through her multiple marriages, all while maturing (her first marriage takes place at a hard-to-stomach 12 years of age) into the woman she will become. Her marriages run the gamut from loving and supportive to domineering and abusive. Still, Eleanor maintains her scintillating and gossipy tone as she grows business after business under her husbands’ names and consistently works to improve her standing in the world.
I was not prepared for part two. After a horrific, unpredictable (by me at least) tragedy, Eleanor’s life is completely changed. Being forced to flee, change her name, and make her own way in the world leads to some dark and depressing chapters. You can see Eleanor trying to maintain her lighthearted tone as she takes what she’s learned and works to provide for herself and her companions, but the 13-1400s are not a palatable time for a single woman trying to make a living.
Every single character in The Good Wife of Bath is well-written and believable. I cannot comprehend the amount of research it must have taken to write a historically accurate story in this time period, especially with real historical figures like Chaucer included. While the narrative took many unexpected turns, it was always believable, and by the time I got to Eleanor and Alyson’s fight in the shit pile, I was totally hooked.
It's time you trusted who you are and stand up to anyone else who would try to belittle you. And that includes me. Do you hear me? Use your voice, woman, use it for yourself and for those who don't have one. And use it well.