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The Butcher's Daughter

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Agnes Peppin is the daughter of a West Country butcher, her mother is related to a noble family. When Agnes becomes pregnant she gives birth and then, to reduce the embarrassment, she is placed in the Abbey of Shaftesbury to become a nun.  Whilst Agnes adjusted to life in the cloister the outside world is changing and King Henry is ensuring that there are fewer monastic dwellings.  Thrust into the world Agnes and her fellow sisters have to adapt to survive.
This is a very slow novel that builds gradually.  The characters are beautifully drawn and Agnes herself is complex with surprise motivations at times.  This is a completely different perspective on the time when Henry VIII made himself head of the Church and what became known as the Dissolution took place.  Here the impact on both the people in the religious houses and also the communities around are explored.  It is a really wonderful book that deserves to be savoured.
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The Butcher’s Daughter is a novel set in Tudor England during and after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It’s a time period and subject that interests me, so I had high hopes for this book, my first by Victoria Glendinning.

It’s 1535 and Agnes Peppin is the ‘butcher’s daughter’ of the title – a young woman from Bruton in Somerset who, after giving birth to an illegitimate child, has been sent to live with the nuns at Shaftesbury Abbey as a novice. Agnes can read and write, having been taught by the canons at her local church, and these skills make her useful to the abbess, Elizabeth Zouche. Before she has time to take her vows and become a nun herself, however, Shaftesbury Abbey, like other great religious houses across the country, becomes a target of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell’s campaign to dissolve the abbeys and monasteries, seizing their assets for the crown and then demolishing the buildings.

The Butcher’s Daughter is narrated by Agnes herself in the form of a memoir as she first describes her life at the abbey and then tells us what happens afterwards as she and her fellow nuns and novices find themselves facing uncertain futures. It’s a slow-paced novel and definitely one which is driven more by character than by plot, but I still found it quite gripping because Agnes pulled me so thoroughly into her world. The chapters set within the abbey are informative and detailed; as a novice, Agnes has a lot to learn, from how to dress herself correctly to studying the Lives of the Saints, as well as getting to know the other women with whom she will be living within the confines of the cloister.

The second half of the book was even more interesting. While the inhabitants of Shaftesbury Abbey have been watching the downfall of other smaller, less profitable houses, telling themselves that ‘in our case, of course, surrender is unthinkable and indeed unthought of’, it eventually becomes evident that they will not be spared and must prepare to suffer the same fate. We see the final days of the abbey through our heroine’s eyes, before following her through a series of adventures as she rejoins the secular world and attempts to find a place for herself in society again. Although Agnes has spent a relatively short time at Shaftesbury, there are others who have known no other sort of life and who find it much more difficult to cope with the changes enforced on them.

Although Agnes is a fictional character and her personal story is invented, Shaftesbury Abbey was real and characters such as Elizabeth Zouche really existed too. Towards the end of the novel, Agnes crosses paths with Sir Thomas Wyatt (son of the poet of the same name), bringing more real historical events and political intrigue into the story, but the focus is always on Agnes herself and the things she experiences during this traumatic and eventful period of religious history. And yet, despite the upheaval Agnes goes through and the challenges she faces, there is still a sense of optimism…a comforting knowledge that, whatever happens, life must go on, “Beans will sprout. Children will be born. There will be butterflies”.
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An interesting story in Tudor times, yet lacked the depth and draw that would have made it an enjoyable read. I did enjoy many parts and found the historical side to this novel very informative and I would say it did have some really lovely parts and I can recommend if you like your Historical Fiction.
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I have several of Victoria Glendinning’s biographies and I’ve always been impressed by the depth of her research and by the quality of her writing. This novel exhibits the quality of that research. I live reasonably close to Shaftesbury and the book represents the geography accurately.

However, I can’t say I enjoyed the book. I dislike books that use the present tense and this book seems to alternate between past and present for no obvious reason. The technique made it very difficult to get absorbed in the plot or the characters and the bare language used, whilst echoing the bare stone and unadorned lives of the nuns, meant that there were no passages to relish simply for the quality of the writing. 

The characters, including the main character, Agnes Peppin, a novice at Shaftesbury Abbey, are not likeable. Many characters were mentioned, but often without memorable characteristics, so I didn’t feel invested in the characters either – and thus had no interest in what they did or said.

Overall, I was disappointed. I shall look for more of Glendinning’s biographies, but I won’t bother reading any more of her fiction.
#TheButchersDaughter #NetGalley
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Set in Tudor England, this book follows the dissolution of the monasteries through the eyes of one of the young nuns, which gives it quite an unusual perspective.  I hadn't really thought too much what would happen to all the religious men and women suddenly dispossessed and made homeless.  Some could not return to family, many could not cope without the order of the Rule to guide their lives.  This story sets the scene very credibly, and we follow how various characters cope.

However, the key character, Agnes Peppin, is much more rounded and we follow her story from before she goes to the convent, and what happens to her afterwards.  It almost reads as fact, not fiction, as she travels to London and becomes involved with Thomas Wyatt, an historical figure.

I found the book to be historically accurate and written in an entertaining and endearing style.  All the fictional elements seemed to be very credible and wove well into the story.  I enjoyed it very much.

Thank you to NetGalley and Duckworth Publishing for allowing me access to the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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The Butcher's Daughter is the story of a young woman who joins a convent only to be witness to the dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII. 
Agnes joins the convent after the birth of her child who is subsequently taken away from her.
She discovers she enjoys convent life but what behinds her afterwards?

Agnes is a fictional character but other real persons are referenced throughout such as Cromwell and Wyatt. 
The story covers the experience of those directly affected by the dissolution of the monasteries and what became of them when their homes and lives were destroyed. Not all survived and others suffered more than others.

There are lovable characters in the story who I felt for but Agnes wasn't really one of them I found her a bit wooden.

Overall I enjoyed the story and it gave me insight tho those affected during those times.
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This was a great piece of historical fiction.  I found the characters to be well developed and interesting.  The author obviously knows a lot about the time period because it was historically accurate.
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I am in two minds about this book. It tells the story of an ordinary girl whose  ordinary life like so many is turned upside down by Henry VIII and his religious policy. The story is engaging though  sometimes brutal and shocking. It’s started strongly but I’m afraid I lost interest as the book progressed. The books weakness lay for me in the fact that none of the characters were very likeable and so I cared less about their fate. 
So this book is a no from me but the book does have its good points. 
I was given an ARC by NetGalley, all opinions are my own. .
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