|My copy of the novel, with the original cover.|
Early in the novel, when he is only nine years old, Piers' body is sold to a lodger by his "unscrupulous innkeeper" uncle - a nobleman of the late thirteenth century has an 'innkeeper uncle', just LOL - and he thereafter chooses to become a "boy-harlot." This may be triggering for some readers, as it certainly was for me. Child sex abuse, rape and child prostitution are not topics that I personally want to read about, and frankly I didn't expect to find them in a novel about Piers Gaveston. "My rapist had opened my eyes to my allure, and my value. The Goddess gifted me with great beauty, the kind that inspires awe and takes the beholder's breath away...". The novel is pretty well just about Piers' sex life, and his life as a prostitute, and how he has sex with lots of men and women, then has more sex, then some more sex, and just when you think he might actually do something interesting or different, he meets someone else and has lots more sex. As a few readers will know, this is par for the course in a Purdy novel; there are people who'll never look at Tudor history the same way again after reading her scene involving Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and a jar of honey. Edward II and Piers also have lots of sex, including in a carriage on the way from Dover to London after Edward arrives back in the country with his new wife, Isabella. There is a scene where Piers leaves his new wife Margaret's bed on their wedding night to sleep with Edward, which scene also appears in Chris Hunt's novel about Piers. Piers is so seductive in Confession that even men who normally only fancy women find themselves lusting after him, including Edward's cousin the earl of Richmond, which is also - like so much else in the novel - reminiscent of Chris Hunt's Gaveston (pretty well all the men in that one fancy Piers too, including Edward's cousin the earl of Lancaster). Piers insists on telling the reader frequently and at length how cold and empty all the paid-for sex makes him, a "practised tart" as we are told over and over, feel. Diddums. No doubt this makes some readers feel sympathy and empathy with him, but it just made me feel impatient and bored. "Practised tart," indeed, a man who in reality was lord lieutenant of Ireland, regent of England, a jousting champion, an excellent soldier and so on. Although the fact that Piers did have a life outside the bedchamber is occasionally mentioned, we see nothing at all of his abilities and experiences as a soldier, jouster, military and political leader, earl, estate manager, regent. It's all just about his sex life and how about beautiful and seductive he is and how horrible it is that no-one, including Edward, loves him for himself and not his physical attributes (Edward "was too blinded by my beauty to actually see me" is a typical refrain).
The characterisation of Edward II in Confession, a "feckless, addle-pated king" and a "buttercup blonde" (pp. 5, 14), appears to have been taken straight from the Big Book Of Horrible Dated Gay Caricatures. He sobs constantly, he pouts, he sighs, he yelps, he wails, he stamps his foot and throws silly tantrums, he swoons, he shrieks, he behaves like a teenage girl with a crush. I find it offensive. Edward in general is deeply selfish, extraordinarily shallow and unpleasant throughout, and a wholly unlikeable character who doesn't change or develop at all. Piers claims to genuinely love him, though it's hard to see why; there is nothing remotely loveable or likeable about this character. Piers himself also comes across as a stereotype, the bisexual man willing to have sex with anything that has a pulse, who preens, flirts and simpers. I may be in a minority here, as there are quite a few positive reviews of the novel online, but I don't see any depth to Purdy's creation of Piers Gaveston, don't find Piers' relationship with Edward plausible or interesting, don't feel any sympathy or liking for any of the characters, don't see Piers' famous wit, don't see anything at all that makes me think this is in any way a realistic retelling of Piers' and Edward's story.
An Amazon review of the novel states: "Some of the scenes in the novel seem almost unbelievably melodramatic - such as Edward abandoning his bride on their wedding day for his male lover's company and actually giving him the jewelry that had been a wedding gift from the queen's father - but these are all documented historical events! Brandy Purdy's depiction of them is insightful and accurate, outrageous though it may seem that a king would behave that way." It is emphatically not 'accurate'; Edward and Piers didn't meet again until almost two weeks after Edward's wedding to Isabella so he couldn't have 'abandoned' her on their wedding day, and Edward did not give Isabella's jewels to Piers, an invention of Agnes Strickland five and a half centuries later (I am more sick than I can adequately express of that wretched myth). Purdy has Eleanor de Clare marrying Hugh Despenser in 1318 after he has become her uncle's favourite, a dozen years after she actually did. Edward, naturally, abandons Isabella when she's pregnant in 1312 to save Piers, even though he didn't really. In short, it's yet another of those novels which repeat the same tired old myths and clichés about Edward II.
I asked myself if I'd like the novel more if it weren't about Piers Gaveston and Edward II, but about an invented king and his invented promiscuous lover. In all honesty I probably wouldn't dislike it quite as much as I do, but I'm afraid I'm really not a fan of Purdy's overly melodramatic writing style, with breathless italics and countless exclamation marks!!! on just about every page. On page 52, for example, twenty-two words are written in italics and there are twenty exclamation marks. Page 61 has sixteen exclamation marks and fifteen words in italics; page 147 has twenty-one exclamation marks and no fewer than thirty-four words in italics. On one page. I find it tiring and tiresome to read. There are some things I do like in the novel: Piers' attempts to be kind and affectionate towards his innocent young wife Margaret de Clare - even though he does abandon her on their wedding night to sleep with her uncle - and his love for his daughters Joan (with Margaret) and Amy (with a woman named Sarah). A lot of the description is very well and vividly done, and Piers as 'unreliable narrator' is at times skilfully done and Purdy makes good use of her choice to write in first person. But it's a shame to see a fascinating man like Piers Gaveston written simply as a prostitute, and a shame to see a novel perpetuating unpleasant stereotypes about gay and bi men. OK if you want a quick salacious read, but Confession has precious little to do with history.