The Soldier, the Gaoler, the Spy and the Lover
Marylebone House £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10
SIMON PARKE’s The Soldier, the Gaoler, the Spy and her Lover is a lively and engrossing novel about the aftermath of the Civil War and the events that culminated in the execution of King Charles I.
The reader is presented with the story from four perspectives: those of King Charles; Colonel Robert Hammond, in charge of the King’s imprisonment; Jane Whorwood, the king’s mistress and spy; and Oliver Cromwell. As the narrative unfolds, these multiple perspectives retell a pivotal period in British history, and offer a complex sense of how events felt to those caught up in them.
In the process, the novel presents a particular vision of history: instead of being traditional “great men doing great deeds”, these characters seem to be struggling against the unprecedented circumstances around them, trying both to imagine and to create the future that might emerge from their own time.
The story moves quickly and dramatically, placing us in the midst of the political and personal turmoil from the first page. Parke has a sharp ear for dialogue, and manages to present characters who see the world differently from a modern reader without loading the text down with impenetrable gadzookery or expositions that begin, “As you know, we have always believed that the Bible teaches us. . .”
As with all good historical fiction, the book emphasises both the similarity and the strangeness of the past, offering parallels that shed a wry light on our own era. There is an astrologer who uses the word “Christian” in the titles of his books to sell more copies, for example, and a general who won an epochal campaign but is suspected of being unable to manage the peace. With deft touches like these, Parke’s book retells and reimagines this historical turning-point to lively effect.
Dr Jem Bloomfield is Assistant Professor in Medieval and Early Modern Literature at the University of Nottingham.