A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago

A story of female friendship set in 1609 based on a true murder which turns out not to be a murder at all but the net has been cast and a woman turns up in it whilst the ‘big fish’ gets away with it.

Anne Turner is the wife of a Dr, has a lover in the court with whom she has three children and is a dresser and designer of clothing and beauty. Francis Howard is beautiful but married at an early age to a man that can not consumate their marriage but is a sadist. They meet when Francis needs to be dressed to attract her husband’s attention and they become friends. And it is this friendship that traps Anne in the net ready to be accused of using potions and poisons and of murdering Thomas Overbury, a man no one likes.

The friendship reminded me of Elena Ferrante’s book My Brilliant Friend with that push/pull of freindship, the egging each other on and that early hint that this is going to end in tears but no one takes any notice. There are elements of this book which are really well done, the description of the clothes and make up, the female friendship and being trapped and there are other elements that do not work quite as well. I was left a bit confused by the character of Thomas Overbury and why he acted the way he did towards the women.

This was an interesting time in the court where men were starting to dress in a more ‘female’ way and the king has male favourites and women start to wear feather and doublets and it is in this atmosphere that the two friends start to show their strength by Francis not obeying her husband and obtaining a divorce. Life was hard for women in those times and this book attempts to show how mysogynist attitudes towards them have prevailed throughout history.

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