I’m not one for painful detail in books and Tidelands is abundant in them, yet they play a pivotal role in the setting of Alinor’s story as a woman in a politically unstable, war-ridden England in 1648 where superstition and witch-hunts are common and women are nothing more than human reproducers.
Philippa Gregory brings together a myriad of relatable issues to narrate Alinor’s story with almost tiresome intricacy that also holds some sort of magnetism for the reader as we learn the atrocities committed against women for simply being women. There are some gritty topics in the book – rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse, suicidal thoughts – but they are never explored too deeply because the progression of the book relies on the strength of Alinor overcoming her impoverished circumstances to ensure the best outcome for her children. Alinor is out searching for her husband’s ghost when she meets James, a Catholic priest on a secret mission in Protestant England, and the two fall in love. Religious zealotry and sectarianism aside, theirs is a dangerous affair on many levels not least because she’s a wife without a husband who left his family under the pretext of serving in the war and hasn’t returned. Her marital status hangs in the balance while she constantly endures allusions of witchcraft and knowledge of the occult.
In a society so primitive, Alinor is beautiful, intelligent and gifted in her skills as a midwife and her ability to mix herbs for medicinal purposes. Her shining talents are misunderstood and the rising fortunes of her children are viewed through the lens of suspicion and envy. She is vulnerable yet faces every adversity with strength of character – her motivation lies in constantly thinking of her children and even when faced with the prospect of fortune, she puts her unborn child first instead of choosing to rid herself of it. In some ways, Alinor’s character is written as far too self-sacrificial but the choices she makes in the face of men with weak and fickle characters, including the one she loves, are literally her own even if not entirely for herself. Alinor is a woman who knows her own mind and stands her ground for her children and this tenacity is inherited by her daughter.
For me, Tidelands brings Tess of the D’urbervilles to mind in relation to poverty, social class and how the position of women means that they’re constantly on the back foot even with their self-proclaimed lovers. The difference between the two books is that Tidelands, the first in a series, ends on a cliffhanger with the climax I should have seen coming sooner. Being on the lowest rung of the social ladder isn’t a pretty prospect in any time, but it’s downright miserable in the South Coast of England in 1648 and the amount of work required for the Reekie family to keep their heads above the proverbial water sounds exhausting just to read, let alone toil over. Alinor’s meeting of James is a turn of fortunes, both good and bad, and I’m certain this won’t be the last of him in the book series.
I’m not sure if I’ll want to read more but a part of me is curious to know what happens to Alinor and the fate of the Reekie family. Tidelands is less to do with being a woman in 1648 and more about an extraordinary woman who is held back by her destitution whose hard work and expertise go unmatched and underappreciated in an archaic and small neighbourhood.
James’ utterance in the beginning ‘I did not know that there could be a woman like you, in a place like this‘ offers more profundity about Alinor and the Tidelands than we realise.
- I borrowed my copy of ‘Tidelands’ from Borrowbox.
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
- ISBN: 9781471172724
- Number of pages: 448