Why I can’t write a Book Review for “The Dark Lady’s Mask” by Mary Sharratt.
Summary: “London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything. Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain. They leave plague-ridden London for Italy, where they begin secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country — and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their Italian idyll, though, cannot last and their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, United Kingdom – London; Italy; Other Categories: Novel, Biographical.
With all due respect for Sharratt’s really nicely written prose, I was unable to finish reading this book. I have a great love of historical fiction, and am willing to accept no small amounts of literary license when it comes to adjusting some facts to fit the story – for example, it is possible that William Shakespeare could have been bi-sexual.
However, I was unable to overcome the blatant rewriting of history to suspend belief when, in this novel, William Shakespeare is still an impoverished poet AFTER the death of Christopher Marlowe. Furthermore, this whole business about Shakespeare living in Italy for what sounds like a long time, is also a truly unacceptable rewriting of history, that I was yet again unable to suspend disbelief.
That said, many have tried to point to Aemilia Bassano Lanier as Shakespeare’s “dark lady,” however no one has ever proven that this really was his muse. Also yes, she was a poet in her own right, and telling her story was an excellent basis for a biographical novel.
That’s why this is really too bad, because I truly had such high hopes for this book, and as I noted, it is well written. Therefore I offer my sincere apologies, and I’m sure other readers will be more forgiving. (By the way, this didn’t stop me from reading and enjoying Sharratt’s subsequent novel “Ecstasy,” which I really liked, and which had one of the most beautiful covers I’ve ever seen.)
If I haven’t convinced you not to read this novel, this book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.