Wednesday 23 October 2019

Entertaining Mr Pepys by Deborah Swift

shortlisted for Book of the Month

Entertaining Mr Pepys (The Women of Pepys' Diary Book 3)

 brilliant finale of an excellent series."



Fictional Saga

Entertaining Mr. Pepys is the final instalment in Deborah Swift’s Pepys standalone series, each book featuring a different woman mentioned in Samuel Pepys’s famous diary. The stories are unique and focus on a different aspect of Restoration London. Entertaining Mr. Pepys is a brilliant finale of an excellent series.

Bird has a beautiful voice. She is the only daughter of a well-to-do London lawyer with a reasonably secure and comfortable life—until her doting father begins to dote more on his second wife. Bird’s father decides that it’s time to marry off his daughter without any consideration to finding a fitting match for her. Knepp, the chosen bridegroom, is a dour and bitter businessman with a struggling horse hire service who agrees to marry Bird for her considerable dowry and for the prospect of getting unpaid labour in the form of a wife. Bird’s new husband works her harder than he does his paid stable hands, and she is expected to not only to help them in their stable work, but also keep her husband’s house and cook for everyone on a shoe-string budget. The contrast between Bird’s well-appointed home and the dirty, dingy and mean accommodations of her husband’s house is heartbreaking. All her attempts to make the best of her marriage and her new home more palatable are cruelly rebuffed. 

There is a chilling authenticity to Bird’s situation where women had very few rights and were entirely at the mercy of either their fathers or husbands. Swift balances her portrayal of Bird, ensuring she is a character of her age while giving her enough gumption to demonstrate her strength. She does this by giving her moments where she can get away and be herself. This is how she discovers the theatre and recognizes a hunger inside herself for being a player on the stage. From that moment on, Bird uses her wits and her wiles to secure herself a place in the King’s company.  

There’s a diverse cast of characters who are wonderfully nuanced, from the African-Dutch maid to the actor who has been replaced by female performers, and even to Bird’s severe husband. A lesser author would have kept Knepp as a two-dimensional villain; instead, Swift reveals surprising layers in his character as the story progresses. 

The author’s attention to historical detail make this period come alive. Entertaining Mr. Pepys takes us to the drudgery of Restoration London, the dazzle of the stage and the fury of the Great Fire of London finishing on a satisfying note when the curtain descends. This is historical fiction at its best. Highly recommended! 

© Cryssa Bazos

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