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The Players ~ Reviewed by Annie Vigna

The Players by Margaret SweatmanThe Players by Margaret Sweatman
Goose Lane Editions, 2009
329 pages

Reviewed by Annie Vigna

Margaret Sweatman has favoured her readers with an historical fiction of 17th Century England and Northern Canada and titled it The Players. It is beautifully crafted from carefully researched facts of the prevailing idioms and sensibilities of that era when everyday costume and makeup, though considered effeminate by today’s standards, were fashionable in the mid 1600s. And Sweatman treats such descriptions with great humour. “Pizzle” – now that’s a word!

King Charles took a chair, his leg displayed on a pillow, just as Sir George Rose arrived, followed by a school of English herrings drenched in lavender, … Several were chewing cloves. Jabots of the French fashion were much in evidence; lace frothed down their chests and foamed up through slits cut in their sleeves. Ribbons around their calves, bows at their ankles. Two or three were so well dressed that they’d not been successful in relieving themselves, which added a certain damp caution to walking already made risky by ill-fitting shoes on a stone floor. That acid scent of pizzle (pg. 28).

This man’s world of King’s court, explorers, sailing ships, and discovery would not be complete without a beautiful seductress, an accomplished actress of the stage, a legitimate “player” who, albeit treated as a chattel and the object of the King’s affection, nevertheless plays to survive. Lilly Cole enters the story as a 16 year old orphan to live with her aunt and female cousins, and to work in the inn as a barmaid. A natural mimic, she quickly becomes enamoured with the theatre, and the theatre, with her; and she becomes the King’s thing. Lilly, the player! Settling into a night of lovemaking, she thought, “I will be what you like, let you do what you like; I’ll even like what you do” (119).

Although King Charles treats her tenderly and really likes her, not all men in the story are as chivalrous—not a certain Soby who loses his life while trying to rape Lilly. Before she has to answer to the law for this murderous act, Lilly and her playwright sneak aboard the ship sailing from London, and a seafaring adventure begins. When Lilly discovers . . . . No, I won’t reveal another thing–you need to read this book for yourself. Suffice to say, the rich tapestry of Canada’s natural landscape, and of the first nations inhabitants are painted by the hand of a skilled artist, and always suffused with basic human longing.

Margaret Sweatman is the author of three novels: When Alice Lay Down with PeterSam and Angie; and Fox. Together they’ve won the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, the Margaret Laurence Award, the Sunburst Award, and the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award. She is also a playwright and lyricist, and performs with the Broken Songs Band. She won a Genie Award for the lyrics of the song “When Wintertime”.

Annie Vigna is a former bookstore owner. She lives in Calgary, Alberta.

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Posted by Pearl on May 31 2011. Filed under Book Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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