A Net for Small Fishes By Lucy Jago
Book/Novel Author: Lucy Jago
Book/Novel Title: A Net for Small Fishes
“A bravura historical debut . . . a gloriously immersive escape.” —GuardianWolf Hall meets The Favourite in Lucy Jago’s A Net For Small Fishes, a gripping dark novel based on the true scandal of two women determined to create their own fates in the Jacobean court.With Frankie, I could have the life I had always wanted . . . and with me she could forge something more satisfying from her own . . .When Frances Howard, beautiful but unhappy wife of the Earl of Essex, meets the talented Anne Turner, the two strike up an unlikely, yet powerful, friendship. Frances makes Anne her confidante, sweeping her into a glamorous and extravagant world, riven with bitter rivalry.As the women grow closer, each hopes to change her circumstances. Frances is trapped in a miserable marriage while loving another, and newly-widowed Anne struggles to keep herself and her six children alive as she waits for a promised proposal. A desperate plan to change their fortunes is hatched. But navigating the Jacobean court is a dangerous game and one misstep could cost them everything.
I love the historical fiction genre, but it’s pretty rare for me to pick up a book set in the 17th century. So I’m glad I picked this one up and it didn’t take me very long before I was fully engrossed in the story and the lives of the two women. Highly recommend checking out A Net for Small Fishes as it was a fascinating read based on a real life scandal taking place during the reign of King James. Frances Howard is the wife of the Earl of Essex and she is trapped in a loveless marriage. After meeting Anne Turner she develops a close friendship with the mother of six. Anne is captivated at this new world she has been introduced to full of extravagance and often times tawdry behavior. Both women are unhappy with their current situations, but not much you can do when you are living in a time when all females are expected to be silent, loyal, and obedient. What will happen if they decide to take matters into their own hands? I got to tell you, the lives of the ultra elite and privileged never ceases to astound me! While the heart of the book is certainly Anne, the political power games that were being played by just about every character also drove my interest in the story. While the pace might be too slow for some readers, for me it was laying the groundwork for the dramatic conclusion. Can’t say enough good things about this book and I know it will remain a top historical fiction read for me by year’s end. I encourage book clubs to consider this one as a selection as there’s so many points of discussion here. Thank you to Flatiron Books for providing me a copy! All thoughts expressed are my honest opinion.
The book would have been MUCH more enjoyable had the author not included so many 1600th century words, some that had no current-day definitions online. I grew very tired of looking up words on every other page and finding only about 55% available definitions for the words online. After page 144, I had had quite enough of Ms. Jago’s over-use of 1600th century words that I just didn’t care anymore about what the words meant and stopped looking them up. It is not enjoyable to have the flow of reading CONSTANTLY interrupted by the annoyance of these over-used 1600th century vocabulary dress-ups. It is as if the author wrote the story and then an editor went through, with the use of some sort of app or software, and changed modern words to 1600th century words to make the story more believeable (dress-up) but, in the process, screwed-up the reading flow with too many of these dress-up vocab switches. Part of publishing a beautiful read is putting yourself in the place of your readers and someone totally 100% missed that important element with this book, before publication. Advice to author, don’t do this again because this major flaw makes me not a fan of your work, and I won’t purchase another one of your books because of it. Authors rarely get a second chance with me (or any reader) because why would I (we) waste our money, again, once we see where the author’s loyalty (ego) lies? Flow is e-x-t-r-e-m-l-y important in novels. Ms. Jago’s dress-up vocabulary are too much, which both she AND her editor should have realized BEFORE publication. Ego rules those who want to belay their work with substitute words. If your story is good enough it doesn’t need such word-switching to make it appeal to the few with enormous vocabularies. Focus on appealing to the masses instead of trying to attain awards and good reviews from the 2% of the population that never have to open a dictionary. It is your choice, Ms. Jago, write for your readers’ pleasure OR for your publication award committees pleasure. Your choice shows the size of your ego, not hard to read between those lines. Those in your ear may have advised you to write this one dressed up novel, get your accolades/awards, and then write the next to appeal more towards your main readers but I’m telling you now, that was bad advice, very bad. That isn’t how it’s done. If you want to be in this game for the long haul, you put the 98% interests first every…single…story. The constant interruptions of words that require online definition searches, which many are not even found online easily (after spending five minutes looking in 3-5 different searches for definitions I am frustrated, give up on finding the definition, and just move on. Example: “Ottoman” try searching for that word, in the context the author uses it on page 142, and see how frustrating it is!). Early on it is very apparent the author’s ego is needy of accolades of the writing/publishing world, instead of accolades from readers. At one point I was so frustrated that I started highlighting, with a yellow highlighter, all of the words the author used that have to be researched/looked up and the pages were littered with yellow. Ridiculous! No one has time for that or desires to do so. Readers want to be transported and stay in that storytelling realm until the story ends, not bounce back and forth from book to online definition searches! These interruptions are NOT want any reader desires while reading. This annoyance detracts from the storyline in a major way and made it very hard to get through the book because I felt no compulsion to read the whole novel in 1-2 days, like usually happens when I find a well-written, nicely flowing, interesting read that I cannot put down (example of beautifully written period novel: Shadow of Night, which is a period novel that is extremely historically accurate, but never annoyed me with constant interruptions of looking up words for vocab switches. There were a few I looked up but not even a fifth of the amount of A Net for Small Fishes, so this CAN BE ACCOMPLISHED without sacrificing the reading flow!!). “One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary.” (Stephen King, A Memoir on the Craft~On Writing) Do better next time, Ms Jago. Readers desire to understand what they are reading, believe it or not. If it were not for this constant annoyance of vocabulary switching I might have enjoyed your novel, but we will never know because this incessant vocab ego trip ruined the read for me. Once I forced myself to page 146, I just wanted to finish and get it over with so I could relieve myself of possessing the book. I really wanted to toss it before that point but forced myself to finish it, like taking sour medicine. Your editor did you a grave disservice. An author’s primary reading audience should always come first, not publishing award committees…period. Very sincerely, Disappointed PS-The animal cruelty was absolutely unnecessary to include in this story and seemed something a desperate writer would include.
Animal lovers beware. Some dreadfully r,realistic parts describing animal cruelty . History interesting but the animal stuff spoiled the book for me.
I had never heard of the characters portrayed in Ms Jago’s excellent book. Her research and depiction of the friendship of these two women was superb. The times in which these women lived was too horrible to imagine but historically accurate. I could not put this book down and highly recommend it to anyone interested in ancient England and the injustice visited on women. Hopefully Lucy Jago will write more books of similar historical female experience.
If you’re like me and never heard of the Overbury scandal during the reign of King James, this book will come as a revelation. If you have heard of it, you may be aware of some inaccuracies, but — duh — it is fiction and doesn’t have to conform to the historical record. In any case, this book is a very well done piece of historical fiction that does what great historical fiction does — take you to a different time and place. Jacobean England was not a kind place, particularly so for women, and particularly so for women who were willful and relatively independent — though I suspect that today’s independent woman would consider the leading characters as hopelessly enslaved. The writing is crisp and effective; the characters are beautifully drawn, and the dialog is realistic most. And the plot is something that Philippa Gregory could not convey more effectively.
Lucy Jago’s new historical fiction novel A Net for Small Fishes concerns a real life scandal from the Jacobean court and is a lush reimagining of the events surrounding the murder of Thomas Overbury. It revolves around Frances Howard, the unhappy and abused wife of the Earl of Essex, and her friendship with Anne Turner, a physician’s wife and struggling fashion stylist who dresses her. The rich historical details in this novel make it a very immersive read, and the friendship between the two women is beautifully crafted and compelling to follow. This is a riveting page turner of a story as Frances and Anne attempt to navigate a world that can be and often is a very dangerous place for women. Stylistically, the prose felt a little heavy-handed at times with overly flowery similes that at times detracted from the narrative by pulling me out of the story. But overall this was a very enjoyable read and a fascinating look into a period of history that I hadn’t read much about in historical fiction before. I look forward to more of Lucy Jago’s future works.