Book review and giveaway: The Sharp Hook of Love – I love France #119

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The Sharp Hook of Love

 

Sharp Hook of Love

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this book for free in exchange
for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post
as a reviewer,
and the thoughts are my own.
The Sharp Hook of Love
By
Sherry Jones
Publisher Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books
Pub. Date: October 7, 2014
ISBN: 978-1451684797

Pages:  384
Genre:  historical/biographical/literary fiction
Source: Received
from the publisher for a
virtual book tour on France Book Tours 

Goodreads

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S&S  |  Amazon  |  B&N  |  BAM  | IndieBound  | Kindle   | iBookstore  | Nook

This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:

      books-on-france-14   New author challenge    2014 historical fiction

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

Rating systemRating systemRating systemRating systemRating system

Almost a thousand years after their death, I would say Héloïse and Abélard are still the most famous Medieval couple in Europe. Their story has given rise to a massive amount of literature, and it is the source of many works, and myths as well. Unfortunately, it seems their fame is not so widespread in the US, apart from the world of Medieval scholars. So I am really thrilled Sherry Jones decided to introduce her American readers to them through The Sharp Hook of Love. Based on lots of primary and secondary sources, it is a brilliant presentation of their life.

First, my Medieval Latin heart totally resonated with the titles given to the 3 parts of the novel: Amor, Dilectio, Caritas, in other words 3 terms to speak about love in all its facets. This theme comes back many times in the book, and gets to its climax in a most powerful final scene on Abélard’s death bed.The 3 words fit perfectly the events of their life.

Left in the abbey of Argenteuil at a young age, Heloïse is taken back by her uncle Fulbert to live with him in Paris when her mother dies. She already has a wide education and the reputation of a “female scholar“.
One day, she hears the renowned teacher poet, and philosophy teacher Pierre Abélard, a canon of the Church and headmaster of the Nôtre Dame Cloister School. Thinking about the possible social advantages for himself, Fulbert hires Abélard to give her classes, so that she can one day become the abbess of the famous Fontevraud abbey, where her own mother was a prioress.

A woman, I was only a pale moon in a world of suns, reflecting the light of men but emitting none of my own. What use had the sun for the moon? What use had Pierre Abélard for me?
pp.17-18

But Abélard WAS interested! And using the pretext to teach her dialectic, something totally revolutionary at the time to be taught to a young woman, they start to practice the art of letter writing imagining themselves as lovers… Fiction becomes soon reality.
The novel is the story of their love, in all its power and obstacles, mainly due to the Church and social rules of the time, and also motivated by jealousy and self-interest, mostly among the males surrounding Héloïse:

  • Her uncle starts to drink. He thinks of nothing but his own reputation and social promotion, and is ready to do anything to get it. Beating her is not out the question
  • His servant Jean is shady. Can she trust him or not?
  • Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis, has a despicable character, and cannot stand women
  • And what about even Abélard’s love for her? Would he be ready to sacrifice his career for her?

Each chapter begins with a short passage from the letters the lovers exchanged. I highly recommend you now to read these letters, especially in this brilliant edition.

If you have no clue about their life, be prepared for a powerful surprise and scene. Remember we are in the Middle Ages, some rough times. I remember reading about this event in Abélard’s and Héloïse’s life, one day many years ago, while sitting between two rows in a library and browsing through books. I just started crying and crying when I read what happened to them. Jones’ book helped me though see things a bit differently, and not just consider Abélard as a mere victim, but also as a selfish scholar at times.

The book is full of important historical background:

  • When they meet for the first time, we are 30 years into the Gregorian reform, which no longer allows priests to marry. Yes, Catholic priests used to be able to marry, not only in Eastern Europe but also in Western Europe. The law for marriage celibacy is based on social elements, not theological ones. Strictly speaking, the law was aimed at priests only, but there was a general tendency of including all clerics, including canons
  • So there’s the whole context of reform of the Church, and also the problem of investiture
  • They go one day to listen to the famous Bernard of Clairvaux
  • Another major monastic founder is present: Robert of Arbrissel, founder of Fontevraud Abbey
  • Through Héloïse and Abélard, we see the importance given to love, including love of knowledge and of education, in the Middle Ages

Apart from the romance, there’s even an element of mystery, about who Héloïse’s father was and why really her mother seemed to have abandoned her in an abbey at a young age.

Having spent many hours on Medieval texts and history, I would like to add a few points. Please understand that these in no way minimize my admiration for this book, not intended to be a scholarly work, but a much needed presentation of a Medieval couple to a very modern public. This will probably not interest most of my readers actually. But here it is, for the few monks and Medieval lovers who may read these lines:

  1. First about Héloïse’s mother: Jones chooses her to be Hersende de Champagne. Scholars are still debating, there could also be good possibilities she would be Hersende de Saint Éloi.
  2. And about her father: Jones took the liberty to decide it might be Robert of Arbrissel. One possible argument about Robert being her father is how much Abélard knew about Robert. Scholars think he could only have known details about him through Héloïse, because her own mother would have told her. This does not really work here, as Jones chose not to show any talks between the two women.
    Another possible option is that Fulbert himself would have been her father, which would not be far from this despicable character. Maybe this could have been an interesting track to follow
    Others think her father could be Gilbert de Garlande. His own brother Etienne is quite sympathetic towards her in the book, so this could have worked together as well
  3. I was surprised the author did not follow more the Bernard of Clairvaux track. I love Bernard very dearly, but really, his condemnation of Abélard’s theology, in absentia!, at the Council of Sens in 1140 was really the final blow given to Abélard. I was disappointed not to see this mentioned
  4. To go on with Bernard, I was surprised to see the point about him and his mother Aleth, that he waited for her to die before entering Cîteaux. She died in 1106, but he did not enter the monastery before 1113. So I don’t think we can say he waited for her to die as there were 7 years between the 2 events
  5. I would have expected a few more chapters between the last two, and less than a 50 year gap. There’s not much here about the big scandal at Argenteuil: Héloïse was not only kicked out, she actually left with half of the monastery to found her own at Le Paraclet. As a brilliant abbess, she had a formidable reputation and did a lot for her Order, with all the necessary fights. Maybe this could be looked at in another book?

As an aside, I can’t recall how the author explained the title of her work, if she did, but I wonder if she was inspired by a famous Medieval document attributed to the Pseudo-Bonaventure.

To end, I would like to share picture I took at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris a few years ago. It contains thousands of tombs, but theirs, moved to this place in 1817, was definitely on top of my list to visit:

 

  Heloise and Abelard1 Heloise and Abelard2

 

VERDICT: Based on Heloise and Abelard’s letters and many other documents and studies, The Sharp Hook of Love reminds modern readers of the most famous Medieval couple, of their powerful love and their numerous obstacles to live it. Combining romance and elements of mystery, this is a must read to know more about how a brilliant European woman lived and fought in the Middle Ages.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

 

Image for Sharp Hook of LOve“To forbid the fruit only sweetens its flavor”

Among the young women of 12th century Paris, Heloise d’Argenteuil stands apart. Extraordinarily educated and quick-witted, she is being groomed by her uncle to become an abbess in the service of God.

But with one encounter, her destiny changes forever. Pierre Abelard, headmaster at the Nôtre Dame Cloister School, is acclaimed as one of the greatest philosophers in France. His controversial reputation only adds to his allure, yet despite the legions of women swooning over his poetry and dashing looks, he is captivated by the brilliant Heloise alone. As their relationship blossoms from a meeting of the minds to a forbidden love affair, both Heloise and Abelard must choose between love, duty, and ambition.

Sherry Jones weaves the lovers’ own words into an evocative account of desire and sacrifice. As intimate as it is erotic, as devastating as it is beautiful, The Sharp Hook of Love is a poignant, tender tribute to one of history’s greatest romances, and to love’s power to transform and endure.  [provided by the author]

 ***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sharp Hook of Love - Sherry JonesSHERRY JONES is also the author of Four Sisters, All Queens;
The Sword of Medina;
and her controversial, internationally bestselling debut, The Jewel of Medina.
She lives in Spokane, Washington.

Visit her website.
Follow her on Facebook, Twitter , Google +, Pinterest, and Linked In

Subscribe to her newsletter.
Send her an email: sherry [at] authorsherryjones [dott com

 

HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK YET?
What’s your favorite medieval historical novel?
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS  IN A COMMENT PLEASE

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20 thoughts on “Book review and giveaway: The Sharp Hook of Love – I love France #119

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  6. Emma, thank you for this very erudite and detailed review! I can answer your questions here:

    1. Hersende de Champagne died on the very day of death Heloise recorded for her mother, which I believe was Nov. 1, 1114. She went to help build the Fontevrault Abbey while Heloise was still a girl, which would explain why Heloise was sent to Argenteuil as a child.

    2. It makes no sense to me that Abelard wouldn’t have known of, and possibly even seen in person, the great Robert of Arbrissel. After all, he was preaching while Abelard was still an itinerant student, and he was very famous throughout the realm. At any rate, you are right, we do not know who Heloise’s father was, but I think Robert is a great choice because his notoriety — and his position relative to Hersende de Champagne’s — would have necessitated keeping his identity a secret. Since having children out of wedlock was not considered shameful at that time (people married for money, not for love) it seems odd that her father would not have been involved in her life.

    At any rate, the job of a historical fiction writer, as you know, is to choose one version of history and stick to that. I am aware of all the other possibilities you mentioned, but chose this one for many reasons, one of them the excellent dialogues I conducted by email with Constant J. Mews, a noted Heloise-and-Abelard scholar who first published their “lost love letters.”

    3. How I would have loved to write more about Abelard and Heloise’s lives after the tragic ending to their live affair! However, my story was focused on this aspect of their lives together, and on Heloise’s tale. More about Bernard’s persecution of Abelard would not have fit into this book.

    4. My point about Bernard in the book was that he had a close relationship with his mother, who obviously was no virgin, so for him to venerate virgins over women who bore children made no sense.

    5. A chapter about the expulsion of the nuns, including Heloise, from Argenteuil was originally the book’s prologue but was removed in the editing. It is a wonderful chapter that I am posting on my website for email-subscribers, along with a video of the early “lost love letters” and medieval artworks depicting the couple as well as the prologue and opening chapter of THE SHARP HOOK OF LOVE. For any and all these giveaways, your readers can go to http://authorsherryjones.com/swag.

    Thank you again, Emma! I am delighted with your very intelligent review.

    Like

    • thanks Sherry. I know you consulted many sources, and yes when there are options, one has to chose. I know Mews’ book and his strong arguments. Just meant to mention that other scholars also have interesting arguments for other solutions to both mysteries. Interesting that you had to delete the chapter on the nuns leaving Argenteuil! Thanks again for this wonderful book

      Like

  7. Oh! I forgot to answer your question about the title: It comes from one of Heloise’s own lines in her “lost love letters.” which I also used in the book: “Since my mind is turning with many concerns, it fails me, pierced by the sharp hook of love…”

    Like

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