I have just got to the end of Tregian’s Ground by Anne Cuneo, tr. Roland Glasser and Louise Rogers Lalaurie (And Other Stories, 2015).
I had been wanting to read this since I first heard that And Other Stories were going to publish something so far outside their normal mould – a big, fat historical novel about Francis Tregian, believed by some, including the author, to be the collector of the pieces in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, and subtitled “the Life and Sometimes Secret Adventures of Francis Tregian, Gentleman and Musician”. It is set in the Elizabethan and early Stuart era – up to the Civil War – and deals with plots and counter-plots, religious freedom/discrimination (the Tregian family are Catholics), and, naturally, a lot about music. It travels through Cornwall, London, France, Italy, Holland and probably quite a few other places I’ve forgotten, and includes encounters with Shakespeare and most of the great political and musical figures of the day.
After such a long wait, I am so glad it wasn’t a disappointment! To me, the book sits somewhere between The Other Boleyn Girl and Wolf Hall in the literary/highbrow-ness scale and anyone who enjoyed those would probably get on well with it.Francis is an engaging character and the period is genuinely fascinating. The switch between present and past tense for flashbacks/memories and more conventional narrative could become a little irritating but is generally well handled and I felt that Roland and Louise had done a great job in getting the historical voice not to feel either contrived or anachronistic. That said, some of the plot occasionally lapses into both faults – I wasn’t entirely convinced by the Shakespeare/Hamlet section, or that a 16th century gentleman would so accurately anticipate the concept of freedom of religion/conscience, but there we are.
There is also an afterword from the author explaining her sources and reasoning behind her assumptions, in which she freely admits to taking liberties for the benefit of the story. I quite like this as it helps with the wondering which parts are accurate that often goes with a historical novel.
The pace seemed to drag a little in the middle (although that might have been me getting distracted by birthday parties and other frivolities), but it was generally an engrossing and engaging read. If you like this kind of thing – I do – then it is the kind of thing you’ll like. Even if you don’t normally, I would still recommend it!