Ariana Franklin: Gone, but then again, Here

The Siege of WinterI have been reading Ariana Franklin’s work for twenty some years, starting with her earliest novels, published under Diana Norman (her own name). We had a correspondence for about five years, up until her sudden death in 2011 at age seventy-seven.  In 2008 I posted an interview with her, which I updated in 2011 shortly after her death.

It’s unclear to me how this happened, but I somehow missed the fact that her last (unfinished) novel came out in February, and that this was possible because her daughter Samantha Norman, a journalist, took on the challenge and brought The Siege Winter to publication.  In March  Samantha wrote an essay on Bookish about her mother and what it was like to pick up where she left off. 

I learned everything from my mother, and this isn’t just me eulogizing about her because she’s dead and I’m still grieving for her terribly. It’s simply a fact that I happened to be born to one of the most intelligent women there ever was. From that point of view, I am and was extremely fortunate. Although, that is not to say that it was always an easy ride exactly: Brains and ambition are inextricably linked and just as she strove to be the very best she could be, she was also quite adamant that I, her daughter, should be too. Samantha Norman: Finishing My Mother’s Last Novel.

I admit: I hesitated about reading The Siege Winter. I wanted to like it. I wanted to love it, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to. But I can now say that I waited so long for no good reason. It is, quite simply,  a wonderful novel.  I don’t believe in an afterlife, but if there were one, I could imagine Diana cheering. 

The Siege Winter takes as its backdrop what historians refer to as “The Anarchy,” a civil war  in the mid 12th century when a succession crisis followed the death of William Adelin (the only legitimate son of Henry I) and then Henry I.  Henry wanted his daughter Empress Matilda to take the crown, but his nephew Stephen of Blois had other ideas. With the resulting war as backdrop the novel takes on the lives of three women: a young girl left for dead after she is raped and mutilated; the chatelaine of Kenniford castle; and the Empress Matilda herself.

The power of Diana Norman’s novels was always her ability to bring the lives of women into sharp focus.  It’s amazing, really, how Samantha Norman picked up an unfinished novel and carried on without a hitch — I, at least, couldn’t tell where one author stopped and the other picked up. The crackling sharp wit that characterizes DN’s work is still there, as are the empathy and multi-layered characterization and deft handling of a complex plot.  I hope SN has caught the historical fiction bug, and will be able to put down journalism to  build on this strong foundation.

7 Replies to “Ariana Franklin: Gone, but then again, Here”

  1. I read it in February and was very pleased with it. I found it almost as good as Diana’s work, especially in the relationship between Penda and Gwil.

  2. I love her books and find myself buying them whenever I see them. I was very sad to hear of her passing. I will be sure to keep my eye out for her latest/last work.

  3. I too, have been reading Diana Norman for years, with the exception of “Pirate Jenny” which I have been searching for for years in vain. I liked Siege Winter because it reminded me of early Diana Norman writing about the Fens, rather than the later Ariana Franklin series. It felt very familiar in story and the characters had the wit and strength of all her women.

    1. Jay – I agree that this novel was more like the earlier ones than the later series. I’m not sure what to wish for, except that the newest Norman novelist keeps writing.

      Some will take this as an oddity, but I loved Diana’s novel City of Shadows best of all. She evoked Berlin between the wars so clearly it’s almost spooky. And Esther Solonomova is, I think, the most interesting woman she ever wrote, in part because of the masterful way she juxtaposed Esther with the so-called Anna Anderson.

  4. I mis spoke earlier and meant The Pirate Queen as the title that is out of print which I haven’t read. Thanks for recommending City of Shadows. I read mostly her English historical period ones. I’ll hunt down a copy of it right away because I have been reading a number of WWI and between the war pieces with an English point of view.

  5. Thank you for the interview link!!! I bought the latest as soon as it came out, but then also delayed reading it mainly because I didn’t want Ariana Franklin to be over yet. If I leave this one book unread on my shelf, I can pretend…. But you’ve shown me that’s silly.

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