Scala Radio Book Club: Learwife by JR Thorp | Books

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Independent book of the month

Author: David MayPosted 5 hours ago
Last updated 5 hours ago

Mark Forrest’s guest at the Scala Radio Book Club (November 4) was librettist and author JR Thorp on his brand new novel and Fiction Indie Bookshop of the month, Learwife.

The untold story of King Lear’s wife, written out of history but with a compelling story to tell, imagined in lyrics by a hugely exciting new literary voice.

I am the queen of the two crowns, banished for fifteen years, the famous and golden woman, unlucky and evil, mother of three small animals, now missing. I am fifty-five years old. I am Lear’s wife. I’m here.

The word has come. The meticulous King Lear is dead, gone mad and betrayed. His three daughters too, broken in battle. But someone survived: the Queen of Lear. Exiled in a convent years ago, erased from history, her name forgotten. Now she can tell her story.

Although her grief and rage may threaten to shatter the earth, she knows she must seek answers. Why was she sent back in shame and disgrace? What happened to Kent, his oldest friend and ally? And what will become of her now, in this place of women? To find peace, she must reckon with her past and make a terrible choice – a choice on which her fate and that of the entire abbey rests.

Giving an unforgettable voice to a woman whose absence has been a tantalizing mystery, Learwife is a breathtaking novel about loss, renewal, and how history blends into the present.

Mark wanted to go back and find out more about the original source material. “What do we know about Shakespeare’s play about Lear’s wife, the Queen? ”

“So there are two references to King Lear’s wife in the play,” Jennifer said. “One is straightforward. The other is very obscure. There’s a line from Act II, scene four, where Lear says, “I would like to divorce your mother’s grave, Sepulcher adultery.” So the implication is that she is dead or that he believes her dead. And then in another section of the same scene he refers to the mother in a certain way, he tries to contain his own emotions. But that’s all, that’s all.

Mark asked, “The story of the life of a queen, as you say, is fascinating because she leads a life of immense privilege, but she is still completely indebted to her husband. What freedom would even the most privileged, richest and wealthiest women in society have had at that time? ”

“It was a brutally patriarchal society. You can see I tried to make that resonate, even in what is primarily an all-female book. The presence of male power and the constraints of male power and what it demands of women is always very important in the book. This is one of the reasons why I chose to put it in a convent to really bring out this austerity even if there are no visible men, it is always there that all the power seems to reside and where a lot of preconceptions about the power it comes from. ‘

“When you went to agents in publishers with this idea, Jennifer, was it easy to sell them? Marc asked.

“I was lucky because I had a finished book,” Jennifer said. “Some of them said, we would like you to rewrite it because the contemporary section of the book is set in a convent. They wanted to see her outside the convent, to see her escape and run through the countryside causing chaos. And it wasn’t really the book I wanted to write.

Mark wanted to learn more about Jennifer’s other writing activities. “I mention the Indie Bookshop Fiction of the Month award, before that, looking at your CV, you were a librettist and lyricist. What does it really mean you’re doing? ‘

‘I still do. I am the writing partner of composer Toby Young, who is an award-winning composer. We get a lot of orders from all kinds of different places, from the Arts Council, St. Paul’s Cathedral, we just did a song selection for the environmental agency. Basically he writes the music and I write the lyrics. There is nothing like hearing an entire choir of people singing what you have written. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it!

To buy a copy of Learwife by JR Thorp here


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