Painter to the King by Amy Sackville


I was really looking forward to reading this, because it had excellent reviews, and there are very few books in English set in 17th century Spain.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be the literary equivalent of something like Tracey Emin’s “unmade bed”, or one of those “modern art” paintings which look as if a toddler’s run riot with a paintbrush.  There were no speech marks anywhere in the book: any dialogue was just written as ramblings.  In fact, there was very little punctuation at all, and scant regard for grammar or syntax.  It was nearly all just written as ramblings.

Why do people write rave reviews about books like this, or the equivalent in painting or sculpture?  Do people actually enjoy reading a load of ramblings, or is it some Emperor’s New Clothes thing where no-one likes to be the one to go against the “cool” crowd?  Why is it cool to write something like this anyway?  Breaking all the rules does indeed seem very cool when you’re 12, and you’re wearing nail varnish to school and sneaking up the staffroom staircase, but I don’t see what’s praiseworthy about writing a book which is so difficult to read.  Apologies for being a fuddy-duddy, but give me some proper writing in proper English, please!

It was a great shame about the style of writing, because the subject matter was actually very interesting.  It’s extremely difficult to find books in English set in 17th century Spain, which was why I was so pleased to find this one.  I don’t know whether there’s a lingering Black Legend feeling which makes Anglophone writers avoid the subject, or whether, more likely, the courts of Charles II and Louis XIV just seem more appealing than the court of Philip IV.  The painter of the book title was Diego Velazquez, a courtier and court painter at the said court of Philip IV, but the book was far more about Philip than about Velazquez.

It assumed that you knew what was going on, which I rather liked.  Olivares wasn’t even mentioned by name: the book just referred to “the Count-Duke” and assumed that the reader would know who he was.  There was no background information about the Thirty Years’ War or the Eighty Years’ War: the reader was expected to know what was going on.  It could have been a fascinating insight into the decline of Habsburg Spain, the sad loss of so many royal children, the desperate trying for an heir, all the intermarriages, the revolts in Catalunya and Portugal, and indeed the visit of the future Charles I of England and Scotland during the “Spanish Match” negotiations.  It covered all of those subjects.

Unfortunately, it was almost unreadable because of the poor writing.  I don’t for one second think that the author couldn’t have written it in proper English had she wanted to.  She just, for whatever reason – wanting to seem arty, or avant garde, or just different – chose to dispense with grammar and punctuation.  All I can say is that I’m glad that I got a cheap copy of this book from Amazon, and didn’t pay full price!   I just do not understand why people write in this way.  What a disappointment.  Am I missing something?  I just don’t get it!


5 thoughts on “Painter to the King by Amy Sackville

  1. If you decide to set up a Fuddy-Duddy Club, put me down for membership! It drives me up the wall when authors put “innovative” style ahead of just telling a good story well. Punctuation was invented for a reason…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds like a fascinating subject, but the lack of speech marks would annoy me as well. I’m not a fan of this sort of writing at all, so thanks for the warning – I’ll avoid this one!

    Liked by 1 person

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