06 June 2023

Review: The Book of Eve by Meg Clothier

The Book of Eve by Meg Clothier book cover

* Copy courtesy of Hachette *

An historical fiction novel inspired by the Voynich manuscript? Yes please! For those needing a refresher, the Voynich manuscript is a handwritten book on vellum in an unknown script dated to the early 15th century. The book has some botanical illustrations - including some fictitious plants - but the contents have never been successfully de-coded, despite some of the best minds and scholars all over the world doing their best to uncover the mystery. The Voynich manuscript is now available in full and is free online, making it available to the public to view and solve at their leisure. 

The Book of Eve by Meg Clothier is set in Renaissance Florence, where Sister Beatrice is the librarian in a convent. Beatrice feels safe in her library with her prayerbooks and scrolls until the arrival of two women desperately seeking sanctuary one night changes things at the convent irreparably. One of the women hands Beatrice a book, and Beatrice realises this is no ordinary book when men come looking for the women.

After falling in love with the cover design of this book - it might even end up being one of my favourite covers of the year - next to impress me was the writing skill of this new-to-me author.
"'Did you hear that, Beatrice? What do you say to that?' There are many things I should like to say, but none that will do me credit. I swallow a mouthful of pie, and find that my thoughts are in danger of spoiling its flavour." Page 31
I just love that double-barrelled quote, don't you? The convent was a terrific setting, and I greatly enjoyed meeting some of the other sisters and learning the rhythms of life within the veritable safety of the convent walls. The political climate of the time in Italy was relatively familiar, having recently read other books set in Renaissance Florence, largely One Illumined Thread by Sally Colin-James (April 2023); The Brightest Star by Emma Harcourt (2022); and The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O'Farrell (2022).

As the pressure rises and Beatrice finds herself in danger, the author was able to capture unique character insights, like this gem:
"And so, compelled by fear, not buoyed by courage, I fling myself clumsily forwards," Page 270
Having said that, I had to begin to suspend my belief when it came to the powers of the book. I should say that this isn't a dual narrative, and there's no part of the plot set in contemporary times where the book is being decoded. The Book of Eve is inspired by the Voynich manuscript, but isn't about decoding the book. It's an origin story of sorts and I was firmly in a four star frame of mind within the closing pages - one star being lost along the way to the influence of ancient powers. Putting it another way, the creep of urban fantasy into this tale went a little too far for my liking.

However, it was the use of the word 'meaningless' just three pages from the end that saw a further star slip away. The denouement regarding the origin story of the book was a little ambiguous and while I often dislike ambiguity, this one was rather fitting until that one word threw one of my interpretations under the convent's cart wheels, splashing me right in the face.

The Book of Eve by Meg Clothier is a well written feminist tale set in Italy during the Renaissance period and readers without any knowledge of the Voynich manuscript will enjoy this immensely. If you're on the fence, check out a FREE sample of the book.

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

  1. A lovely review, thanks for sharing your thoughts

  2. Great review Tracey. This is not my usual read but you have explained it all so well.

    1. Thanks Veronica, it was a challenge to write this one up without any spoilers. I hope you give it a go!


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