- The Good Wife of Bath, by Karen Brooks. HQ Fiction, $32.99.
In The Good Wife of Bath, Karen Brooks gives the character from one of Chaucer's best-known Canterbury Tales the chance to tell her own story.
While Brooks' version sticks with the autobiographical approach, this is an altogether lighter tale than Chaucer's allegorical confession.
Whereas the original "Tale of the Wyf of Bathe" offers readers a fairly sober examination of marriage and the sexual politics of medieval England ("I woot wel Abraham was an holy man, And Iacob eek, as ferforth as I can; And ech of hem hadde wyves mo than two"), Brooks' mischievous retelling dials up the feminist themes - and the fun - to 11.
This is the story of one woman's dogged pursuit of control of her own destiny told in her own swashbuckling style.
In keeping with tradition, The Good Wife of Bath opens with a prologue. Alyson, the wife from Chaucer's tale, is recast as Eleanor Cornfed and she begins her story by addressing the The Poet's version of it.
"I'll never really know exactly why he portrayed me the way he did, with boundless avarice, unchecked lust, vulgarity, overweening pride and more besides," she writes.
"The Poet equipped me with every sin."
Eleanor's story covers the same terrain, and the same sins, but it casts her in a more empathetic light.
It's hard not to feel for the 12-year-old servant girl who, after being caught in a compromising position with a junior clergyman, is hastily (and unfairly) married off to a mud-caked malcontent five times her age.
It's harder still reading Eleanor's recollection of her wedding night.
In a lengthy Author's Note, Brooks justifies her inclusion of scenes that depict what would now be described as underage sex.
"I feel I have to reassure you, dear reader, that in no way do I condone or endorse underage sex, child sex or anything associated with something so heinous," she writes.
It's a curious addition. How many readers, man, woman or otherwise, would think that after reading a work of fiction, particularly one set in the 1300s?
In any case, the passages that Brooks "agonised over" pass without too much distress, and before long we're back in the saddle of this entertaining romp through Bath-ette-Mere.
Over the course of five marriages, Eleanor experiences love, loss and, as she'd say, "more besides".
In the end, Eleanor doesn't get the child she wished for, but something just as valuable.
She gets control of her own story and an apology from Geoffrey Chaucer for using it in his poems.