Victoria by Daisy Goodwin



First, let me qualify: I am not a fan of historical novels based on real, high-profile figures. I haven’t had good luck with them. I chose to review this book based mostly on my great interest in the Victorian period, its literature and history. My curiosity got the better of me, my hopes raised due to the praise I’ve read about author Daisy Goodwin, and the fame she’s achieved.

It was worth a shot.

My problems with historical fiction are two-fold: first, the question of what’s historical fact and what’s been embellished to further the plot and create interest; second, the artificiality prevalent in the prose style, the inability of many writers in the genre to write in any way that doesn’t come off self-conscious, jerking me out of the story when dialogue attempts to convey historical fact in a way that’s gratingly unnatural.

It would be something like one character telling another: “As you realize, the Battle of Hastings occurred in 1066…,” or “As queen of England, you know I must wear a specific crown at my coronation, and this is kept in the Tower of London. Which is in London, a bit further down the Thames. The Thames being a major route of commerce for the city.”

Of course the other character realizes this, unless he’s a complete dolt. And if he’s an idiot, how the hell did he attain a position reporting directly to the queen?

Sets my teeth on edge.

The onus is on the author to find a way to relay historical and biographical information to the reader without creating dialogue that’s stiff and obvious. It takes much more work, which is why lots of popular writers just don’t bother. The audience must not mind, popular as these books have proven. If it’s making money, it’s not worth a writer’s time sweating and toiling in order to write at a higher level, appealing to a more literary audience.

In short: it sells. Nothing more is expected of it, thus nothing more given.

Daisy Goodman’s Victoria does, unfortunately, fall prey to all the lazy  quirks inherent in historical fiction. There is a large amount of artificiality in the dialogue, as well as terribly irritating and overly-precious writing, especially when it comes to describing how Victoria interacts with her dog. She loved animals, yes. Her dog was important to her and brought her comfort in her otherwise cold and impersonal upbringing, of course. Yet, her behavior is child-like to a cringe-worthy degree, and her dog anthropomorphized as if this were a children’s novel. Her pet’s response to her is nothing short of Disneyfied, inappropriate in a work meant to be taken seriously as a novel written for adults.

Victoria was 18 years old when she ascended to the throne. At 18, young women were then, as now, adults. That she was sheltered is unsurprising, considering the precarious position of heirs apparent, yet her words and actions are those of a much younger girl. Is this truly how she acted? Maybe, but then let’s portray that without beating it to death. A bit of understatement goes a very long way, presenting her as someone immature but not someone you want to slap.

That being said, I presume Goodwin’s done her research, that the novel does inform the reader as far as important points in Victoria’s early life. For lovers of historical fiction, have at it. Enjoy. I’m sure this book will be successful and highly popular. For those with a more literary taste, take a pass.

Time after time, historical fiction leaves me cold. It’s past time I threw in the towel. I’d be much better off reading a straight biography. At least then I’d know what’s true, unless it’s hagiography, and then all bets are off. Still, I’d rather pick my way through that than struggle with books like Victoria.

Another genre struck off the list. Just as well, considering how much really good writing there is. I won’t feel the lack. In fact, I appreciate the time this frees up in my reading, and the guilt of disliking these books lifting off my shoulders.

No genre is for everyone. This one, most definitely, is not for me.

A Sunday Commonplace

Books mentioned in this post:

New advance review books:

Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Victoria: A Novel by Daisy Goodwin


A Tree or a Person or a Wall by Matt Bell

Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden


The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

The Marches: A Borderland Journey between England and Scotland by Rory Stewart


Photo credit: Huffington Post

Photo credit: Huffington Post


Well, then. What have we learned this week?

I had a kick in the teeth of sorts, one FB-active divorced parents will identify with: my ex’s next wife has befriended and begun posting photos with my youngest child, something I know not because I’m stalking her – though, okay, sometimes I do: HI! – but because it’s the first time I’ve had to see her face pop up on my personal timeline along with one of my children’s.

Key word: MY.

So yes, if she stumbles past here now she knows target acquired. But then again, if she stops by she won’t stay long. Because I write mostly about literature. And, well…

No. I don’t think so.


Can I get a nerdy boom?

Can I get a nerdy boom?


Moving past. In my special place, in my special place.


Latest Binge Wathing Time Suck: Dexter.

Latest Binge Wathing Time Suck: Dexter.

All around shorter lists this week, bound to happen from time to time. Not as much came through the door, and I continue to progress in my reading at a snail’s pace. Part of this is due to excuses reasons noted previously, but it’s time I admitted it’s also directly related to my fixation with the series Dexter.

A serial killer is my guilty pleasure. When I get home from work every day I watch at least two episodes. Sometimes more. I switch to books when I hop into bed, but several hours’ worth of potential reading time are given over to watching people get hacked into pieces, then tossed into the ocean.

There is some bleeding over into my daily life directly resulting from my binges – and yes, that’s a freebie. Discussing fictional, theoretical murders (I swear, because prison libraries could never rival my own), I mentioned to my older son that Dexter‘s full of great advice regarding how to get rid of bodies. Over breakfast we discussed the most efficient way to kill: severing the aorta with one good thrust of a knife well sharpened.

Then I asked him to pass the salsa.





Perhaps most disturbing, I’m finding myself rooting for a serial killer. It’s true his victims are reprehensible, have taken innocent lives, and he’s taking them out before they can do more harm (since they’ve slipped through the justice system and gotten away with murder – literally), but the man’s killing people. The guilty are one thing. Not that I condone murder (this got weird, didn’t it), but an eye for an eye, now that I can get behind. But now, when a character gets annoying, I’m thinking, “Dexter, you know what to do!

Out of context, that sounds disturbing. Hell, in context it does. But if you’ve watched the show, you’ll know he’s an endearing psychopath. Much like how I’m an endearing raving lunatic. You do agree, right…?


The TV alternative to bingeing a great series is watching Donald Trump having his tantrums. I like my psychopaths fictional, thanks.


In what I’m realizing is more free time than I admit to having when anyone asks if I want to do something, I’ve been book blog jumping much more often. My Twitter feed is my first source for all news – books included – but it’s satisfying complementing that through reading what kindred souls have been enjoying – voracious readers whose opinions I respect. It does make my TBR list grow proportionately, but that’s no reason not to enjoy myself threading my way from book blog to book blog.



Actual reading-wise, I’ve finished both Matt Bell’s latest collection and the surprise upstart Molly Fox’s Birthday. I plucked it off the shelf at random, curling up in bed with it like a squirrel does its nuts. Remember how I don’t need a man in my life? This is why. He’d roll over on my books and cause me to lose my place.


Don’t make me go Dexter on your ass, son.

Reviews of both books to come.


“I realise that a certain school of thought says that who we are is something we construct for ourselves. We build our self out of what we think we remember.” – Molly Fox’s Birthday



In current reads, two are for review: Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians and The Marches: A Borderland Journey between England and Scotland by Rory Stewart. The former forces me to switch gears to more stream of consciousness prose, working out reading muscles I’ve let atrophy. I’m getting into the rhythm, but slowly.

The latter took a bit of warming up to, due to the fact it started out weighted too much toward Stewart’s relationship with his father. A book should build interest in the main theme, concentrating on developing the hook that’s in the blurb – in this case, and more urgently, the subtitle – before trotting off in another direction to a more personal theme. Get me interested in your project, what the book’s ostensibly about, then tell me about your complex feelings about your father.

Now that I’m about halfway, it’s growing on me. I expect my thoughts to be positive.

I have a goal of getting more detail into these commonplace posts, including more conventional commonplace book content , i.e., quotes and specifics about other elements of my reading – ephemera, in other words. This includes trending topics I’m following, sidebars such as my decision to re-subscribe to The New York Times and why, what I’m picking up from other bloggers, and other details I’d like to track.

Developing the habit of posting on this theme was the first step. Fleshing it out is next.

Speaking of fleshing, maybe I’ll watch another episode or two of Dexter this evening. You know, while I’m sharpening my knife set. Because I watch Chopped, which is about cooking.

Sheesh! So touchy.

Have a lovely reading week. Until next time.