William Morrow and Company
Publication Date: January 25th, 2022
Paperback. 560 pages.
The Good Wife of Bath is a truly remarkable historical fiction story following the fictional life of The Wife of Bath herself from Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Although it will likely enhance the reading experience, I do not think it is at all necessary to have read The Canterbury Tales in order to enjoy this book. I absolutely adored this book and would easily consider it a favorite. This is a genuinely absorbing tale full of ups and downs. My heart was filled with joy at many different moments, as well as completely broken at far too many moments as well.
The Good Wife of Bath begins following the life of Eleanor at the age of twelve when she is first married off to an older tenant former at the age of twelve. From this point, we follow Eleanor through the years and through her marriages to a small array of very different men, all of whom bring something new to Eleanor's life, whether for better or worse. This story follows Eleanor through the many events in her life, from her rise to success as a businesswoman (of sorts) and close friendship with Geoffrey Chaucer, to her pilgrimages and attempts to wrest control of her own life.
Eleanor has easily because one of my favorite protagonists. She headstrong, intelligent, and always up for something new and stimulating to do. She's also one of the strongest women I've come across. From the age of twelve when she is first married off, to her later years after she's been through multiple marriage and hardships, Eleanor somehow always manages to maintain a sense of determination and (as much as I hate to use the word 'plucky' sometimes) sheer pluckiness that makes her a consistent force to be reckoned with.
I can't say enough how much I loved following Eleanor throughout her life. Things aren't always that happy to read about, but they are so full of the realities of life and the struggles and hope that come with that. Some of the biggest themes of The Good Wife of Bath are around Eleanor autonomy and how her life seems to constantly be controlled by men–and her trying to figure out how she can run her own life while under the restraints of said men. Watching Eleanor navigate her life while married to such a wide variety of different men was fascinating and surprisingly mesmerizing as well. Although only a twelve year girl at the start, she shows her ability to be observant and learn from the world and people around her quickly, and through this we see her adapt better to her environments and learn how to best communicate with any variety of person she meets, whether a future husband, a neighbor, or someone business-related. She shows her worth as having a shrewd eye for business with her first marriage, and this leads to many different paths later in life for her, both good and bad. She learns the difference between love, lust, and duty, and makes some truly wonderful and close friends along the way.
I read the The Good Wife of Bath in audiobook format narrated by Fran Burgoyne and it was phenomenal. It's very clear that Burgoyne put a lot of care into capturing the voice of Eleanor, and she does so excellently. I think being able to exhibit Eleanor's personality throughout her life is ac challenging task due to how much she grows and changes and all the difficult times she goes through, and I really loved how Burgoyne captured so much of the emotion and change over the course of the story. Whether you're a seasoned audiobook listener or just getting into it, you cannot go wrong with the quality and narrative excellence of The Good Wife of Bath.
Lastly, I wanted to add that Karen Brooks has a wonderful author's note at the end of this book that covers many of her choices and thoughts on the historical period and how shoe chose to write the story as she did. For instance, she explains thoroughly why she chose to stick to historical accuracy and begin the story with her main character, a young girl of twelve, marry an old man and include everything that comes with that. She is never explicit or writes for shock factor, but rather writes for what is accurate for the story. Brooks also includes an excellent list of books used for her research for further reading if you find yourself wondering more about the time period.
Overall, it's an easy five stars from me for The Good Wife of Bath! This is a not a book that I'll be forgetting about anytime soon.