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Portrait of an Unknown Woman

A Novel
Narrated by: Josephine Bailey
Length: 14 hrs and 53 mins
Categories: Fiction, Historical
3.5 out of 5 stars (69 ratings)

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Critic Reviews

"Bennett...luminously shades in an ambiguous period with lavish strokes of humanity, unbridled passion, and mystery." ( Publishers Weekly)
"An engrossing, quietly impassioned historical that blends some big ideas into the love story and ends with a touching burst of emotional insight." ( Kirkus Reviews)

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  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Revisionist History

I'll start off by saying that the narration and sound quality of this recording are excellent. Ms Bailey is a highly talented narrator. Each character has a distinguishable voice, and the accents are well mimicked.

However I was deeply disappointed by the book itself for the following reasons:

1. Thomas Moore, Meg Giggs adoptive father, is portrayed as half monster, half loving parent. It is hard to believe, but the author goes so far as to portray Moore as a man who, among other things, personally tortured heretics in his out-buildings. There is no historical evidence to even slightly support this scandalous representation. The author's note at the end doesn't even endeavor to claim historical accuracy on this point. Saying Abraham Lincoln was a pedophile wouldn't make it true... it seems wrong to make up something so damaging and unfounded.

2. One of the characters turns out to be a prince in disguise. I felt intellectually insulted. The cliche fitted into the story, but that didn't make me any happier about it.

3. The author did not do her linguistic research very carefully. The dialogue didn't need to be archaic, but sometimes the sentence construction or words used were so blatantly modern I felt myself wincing. I expected someone to exclaim 'cool' or 'shut up.'

4. The characters did not feel like they belonged in that era either. Meg Giggs, the main character, thought and acted like a modern woman. That irked me. It was incongruous.

5. The story changes perspective all the time. Sometimes it is in the third person, and sometimes it is Meg's, Hans', or another character's perspective. Sometimes the perspective even changes mid paragraph (seriously!) Nice try at creativity, but it didn't work for me.

On the other hand the author has a good turn for description, a clever eye for the dramatic, and reasonable talent for keeping you interested. At best I'd call this book 'sensational historical fiction.'

39 of 43 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

loved it!

I enjoyed this book from the first paragraph. As is pointed out by the other reviewer, Meg is portrayed quite modern - and independent. I enjoyed how the author maneuvered these qualities in a much different time period. The narrator is wonderful! - very easy to listen to. I will come back to this book and read it again.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Pita
  • Miami
  • 08-13-14

Highly entertaining history diluted in fiction

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I recommend this book to all lovers of historical fiction but, careful....read it for the entertainment value and because the plot and characters are engaging rather than for historical accuracy.

What did you like best about this story?

The author manages to convey the excitement of the period. We encounter some of the same characters those of us who are addicted to the Tudor family know well but they are presented from a different point of view. Again, beware, the "history" is diluted in the "fiction" but if you accept that from the beginning, you will enjoy this refreshing story.

What does Josephine Bailey bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

I read this book in print and then listened to it. They are two different experiences. The narrator did a great job in making the characters even more vibrant.

If you could rename Portrait of an Unknown Woman, what would you call it?

Probably "Moore's Daughters". Again, I recommend this book. The court intrigue element is minimal. The action takes place outside of court. The characters are multidimensional. I particularly enjoyed some of the secondary players such as Hans Holbain and Thomas Moore's second wife.

Any additional comments?

I plan to explore other offerings by this author. This book was very well written.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Joanna
  • Hillsboro Beach, FL USA
  • 08-04-09

Tedious

Couldn't wait for it to be finished~a curious mix of fact & fiction leaving you wondering which was which.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

wish it didn't end.

If you are in to this period in history and all the many characters involved you will enjoy this story. Brings them to life and brings you into their feelings.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent book, stayed up all night!!

One of my favorite books and performances!

Oh I adored this book, and can't imagine why there are negative reviews, except that the readers weren't the target audience for this book.

This is historical fiction, based heavily in fact, but the fictional parts are creative and page-turning.
Some knowledge of Sir Thomas More, Richard III/the princes in the tower, and Hans Holbien would help the listener enjoy this book more. The backdrop is England during Henry VIII's difficult divorce and break from Rome to marry Anne Boleyn.

Great book for anyone interested in the culture and religious issues of the time.

This is a masterful piece of historical fiction, subtle and beautiful.

3 of 6 people found this review helpful