Book: Illuminations by Mary Sharratt
Format: Review request and review copy sent by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Book Pro’s: Such an engaging and excellent book! It’s well written with nuanced characterizations. No one is perfect.
Book Con’s: (I have to think hard about this one) I found it quite difficult to accept the ill-treatment these women faced, or their willingness to go along with it. This negativity isn’t a symptom of the book, but the time it is placed in.
Skillfully weaving historical fact with psychological insight and vivid imagination, Illuminations brings to life one of the most extraordinary women of the Middle Ages: Hildegard von Bingen, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath.
Offered to the Church at the age of eight, Hildegard was expected to live in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned, disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. But Hildegard rejected Jutta’s masochistic piety, rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine. When Jutta died, Hildegard broke out of her prison, answering the heavenly call to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her sisters. Riveting and utterly unforgettable, Illuminations is a deeply moving portrayal of a woman willing to risk everything for what she believed.
About the Author
The author of four critically acclaimed historical novels, Mary Sharratt is an American who lives in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, the setting for her acclaimed Daughters of the Witching Hill, which recasts the Pendle Witches of 1612 in their historical context as cunning folk and healers. She also lived for twelve years in Germany, which, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medicine, inspired her to write Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. Illuminations won the Nautilus Gold Award for Better Books for a Better World and was selected as a Kirkus Book of the Year.
I normally don’t like books with too religious a focus as Illuminations is steeped in the stuff. Yet this novel is a thoroughly good, engaging and dynamic read that I literally could not put down for 2 days! It is rare for that to happen to me, I grow to love something slowly, you see. But Illuminations captured my heart from the first chapter! To make matters even better, my grandmother saw me reading the book and asked to read it when I was done and she was hooked on it from the first page! I think she finished the book in 8 hours and for my hyperactive grandmother to sit down that long, was amazing.
What makes this novel so riveting? I believe it her nuanced portrayal of characters. No one is perfect in this book, and at the risk of a few spoilers, many of them are puppets and abused, leading them down tortured paths. The characters cling to religion as a sort of solace and for some it is enough and for others, it only fuels their fury and pain. No one is perfect and it is utterly refreshing to read a novel where it isn’t done in a ‘bad-girl’ or ‘bad-boy’ way. The characters are human and for that I appreciate Sharratt’s Illuminations immensely. I’d recommend this read if you’re a big historical fiction lover, religious historical fiction or women’s studies fan.