Book Review

Review: Learwife by J. R. Thorp

Rooted in the tale of King Lear, Learwife is not just a compound adjective of a title, but the story of a woman compounded between her isolation, and the memories of the family that are now truly lost to her.

Title: Learwife
Author: J R Thorp
Pages: 304
Publisher: Canongate
Publication Date: 4th November 2021
Ownership: eARCH provided by the publisher

Rating: 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4)

This in an incredibly lyrical, poetic and dense story. But it can be summarised quite simply – King Lear’s wife, banished to a nunnery for unknown reasons 15 years ago, hears of her family’s tragic death and crumbles into grief and memory. But the abbey is thrown into quarantine before she can visit the graves of her family, and instead finds herself holding a court of nuns.

In lots of ways, it’s an incredible piece of writing – of a woman left isolated and abandoned for many years but still loyal to her husband, her crown and her daughters. Her memories grow stronger as she reflects on their birth, her twice-marriage and the prison that she has never tried to leave until Lear’s death. She is a woman who is bitter and calculating, cold and loving. Does she have a touch of Lear’s own madness? Or is she a capable woman trapped in a man’s cage?

So much of it is really good. But the exceptional language and drawn-out story make it incredibly dense and something of a trial at times. Would making it shorter make it more manageable? Definitely. But it would also take away something quite singular from it.

I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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