How Girlboss of You: A Review of The Good Wife of Bath by Karen Brooks
Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.
Today’s review is on a book that has been in my TBR pile for a long time. For once in my life I am making progress on my TBR pile! I can see the bottom of my shelf again! I have a bunch of books that I’m finally getting to after I don’t know how long and it feels good to make progress on said books. Today’s review is on one of those. I’m specifically talking about The Good Wife of Bath by Karen Brooks.
Also, I did a makeup look inspired by the book cover.
Again follow RHRML on Twitter, @RHRMLBlog, to see my makeup looks there first. You’ll get a sneak peek at what I’ve been reading and what will be coming to the blog soon-ish.
Now let’s get to the synopsis. As always a spoiler alert is in order, you’ve been warned. Also, a quick content warning. This novel is set in the Middle Ages and our main character begins the story at 12-years-old. Even though she’s a kid, this was marriageable age in the Middle Ages and she ends up marrying a man old enough to be her grandfather. The beginning is icky but historical accurate. Also right at the beginning, there is a scene involving sexual assault so please be aware of that. I will not be talking about that past this point. Synopsis time now!
The Good Wife of Bath follows none other than the Wife of Bath. Yes, the Wife of Bath made famous by the one and only Geoffrey Chaucer. While he is indeed a character in this novel, he’s not our focus. Let’s meet our girl Eleanor AKA the Wife of Bath.
At 12-years-old she finds herself married to a much older farmer by the name of Master Bigod. The town gossips have deemed him a wife murderer, dirty, and despised. Fortune favors Eleanor though. Her husband turns out to be nothing but kind and caring. Outside of not really bathing, Bigod is nothing like the town gossips have made him out to be. And as days turn to years, Eleanor not only finds herself with a growing affection towards her husband but she makes his farm prosper as well.
But this is the Wife of Bath we’re talking about. Our girl doesn’t have just one husband, she has five. Master Bigod ultimately dies, and Eleanor finds herself marrying again and again; each time climbing up the social ladder and growing more prosperous thanks to her keen business sense. But with fortune comes misfortune and not all of Eleanor’s marriages work in her favor. This is her story, complete with the ups and downs all people, women in particular, face.
I’m gonna be honest, I enjoyed this book but it took me way too long to read. I think it took me nearly two weeks to finish. Yes, this is a fairly thick book with over 500 pages, but I could only read two or three chapters a night. Honestly, this tidbit offers nothing to my review but I felt it should be mentioned as I can typically read through a book in three to five business days.
I should also mention that the pacing of this novel is excellently done though despite my slow read; the details were excellent too. The novel is split into three parts: Eleanor’s marriages, life as a single woman, and her life when Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is published. The Good Wife of Bath spans the majority of Eleanor’s life, obviously not everything can be detailed, yet nothing is rushed nor drawn out. The pacing was just right!
I will say, I could have done with more chapters set in parts two and three. Part one spans over half the book, but parts two and three feel very short in comparison. It’s not like nothing happens in these parts, a lot does, but more focus could have been put on them. Again, the pacing of this novel was excellent; nothing was rushed or drawn out. What I’m trying to say is I would have preferred if parts two and three were more equal in length to part one, but that honestly has nothing to do with the quality of this book.
Genuinely, The Good Wife of Bath is top tier quality. The writing is beautiful, there is a lot of humor in the story that I wasn’t expecting, the historical elements are so well researched, and the characters were oh so delightful; everything about this book was incredibly entertaining.
Really the only issue I have with this book is the amount of characters, and even then it’s not much of a fault. Every character has a decent introduction and they have their own personalities and good and bad qualities. There’s just so many of them that some of the lesser side characters are easy to forget or easily mixed up with other. But those are background characters who are only around for a brief time. All characters who were relevant to the plot stayed straight in my mind.
Speaking of characters, let’s talk about our girl Eleanor. It should be noted, there is no evidence suggesting Chaucer’s Wife of Bath ever existed. Eleanor in The Good Wife of Bath is not based on an actual person. Karen Brooks even calls this novel a “mostly true story.” Eleanor is a completely fictional character. Specifically, she is a medieval feminist written from a 21st century point-of-view.
What I love about Eleanor is that she never accepts the then common idea that women are lesser beings and that men should always be in charge. What I love even more is that Karen Brooks keeps the feminism realistic to the 1300s. While Eleanor does run a business, and is quite good at it I may add, her riches and success in said business flourish when it appears a man is running the business. When she herself is the figurehead, things don't run as they should. She has great business acumen, but is a woman in the Middle Ages. Overall, Eleanor’s characterization is amazing. She’s intelligent, strong, courageous, and full of love and life even when life knocks her down. Yet she’s flawed and she knows it. She’s knows that she is vain, self-righteous, and lusty, but definitely not to the extent Chaucer makes her out to be. Eleanor is perfectly imperfect.
Also, if you’re a fan of the found family trope, this book has you covered. Through her many marriages and travels, Eleanor meets people from a variety of backgrounds. A good chunk of the people she meets end up becoming servants in her household and they all form a close bond. Ultimately, her generosity and kindness gains her their loyalty as they follow her wherever she goes. By the end, there’s this ragtag group of maids, formerly wealthy women, sex workers, orphaned children, and weavers living together harmoniously.
I don’t think I can recommend this book enough. I know it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea given it’s a historical fiction novel and centers around medieval feminism, but it is a top tier novel. I cannot get over the quality of this book.
With that, I shall end my review here. I bid you all adieu, and I will see you all next week with another great review.
Until then, stay safe, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.