Format Hardcover
Publication Date 12/07/21
ISBN 9781643138237
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 304

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A Novel

J. R. Thorp

Inspired by Shakespeare's King Lear, this breathtaking debut novel tells the story of the most famous woman ever written out of literary history.

"I am the queen of two crowns, banished fifteen years, the famed and gilded woman, bad-luck baleful girl, mother of three small animals, now gone. I am fifty-five years old. I am Lear's wife. I am here."

Word has come. Care-bent King Lear is dead, driven mad and betrayed. His three daughters too, broken in battle. But someone has survived: Lear's queen. Exiled to a nunnery years ago, written out of history, her name forgotten. Now she can tell her story.

Though her grief and rage may threaten to crack the earth open, she knows she must seek answers. Why was she sent away in shame and disgrace? What has happened to Kent, her oldest friend and ally? And what will become of her now, in this place of women? To find peace she must reckon with her past and make a terrible choice - one upon which her destiny, and that of the entire abbey, rests.

Giving unforgettable voice to a woman whose absence has been a tantalising mystery, Learwife is a breathtaking novel of loss, renewal and how history bleeds into the present.

 J.R. Thorp is a writer, lyricist and librettist. She won the London Short Story Award in 2011 and was shortlisted for the BBC Opening Lines Prize, and has had work published in the Cambridge Literary ReviewManchester Review, antiTHESIS, Wave Composition and elsewhere. She wrote the libretto for the highly acclaimed modern opera Dear Marie Stopes and has had works commissioned by the Arts Council, the Wellcome Trust and St Paul's Cathedral. She was a Clarendon Scholar at Oxford, where she completed her PhD. Born in Australia, she now lives in Cork, Ireland.

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Endorsements & Reviews

“In luscious prose, Thorp explores the nameless queen’s untold story, one that — in keeping with the spirit of Shakespeare’s original — is rife with cruelty, betrayal and passion. Learwife is gorgeously written, its language ornate and heady. The novel’s crest and denouement are artful and moving… a beautiful triumph.” Angela Lashbrook The New York Times Book Review
“Intriguing, illuminating. Thorp places her bet on psychological complexity that evolves into more psychological complexity as the story unfolds. I believe it is worth it.” Jane Smiley The Washington Post
“Thorp's poetic prose contrasts with the steely character of a queen at once sympathetic and fearsome. This literary novel offers an intriguing new take on an old story—the play itself and the power dynamics between men and women, mothers and daughters.” Booklist (starred)
"Learwife is a novel that joins the likes of Pat Barker, Natalie Haynes and Margaret Atwood in seeking to unearth hidden female stories left unexplored by literary history. Its tale of pestilence and seclusion also has a powerful contemporary relevance. Written in luminous, lyrical prose, it’s a book that defies easy description, being neither historical novel nor fantasy, but mining the best bits from each genre." The Observer, Top 10 Debut Novelists of 2021