The Sharp Hook of Love by Sherry Jones is an extraordinary book. It has all the right elements in place to be a must read. It’s medieval historical fiction, set in my favorite time period (twelfth century), in Paris. And it tells the story of Abelard and Heloise. So I knew I wanted to read it. But I was thrilled by how quickly I fell in love with the book–and it never disappointed.
If you look at top ten lists of all time great love stories (which are always tragic), some couples will pop up repeatedly: Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Lancelot and Guinevere... Some of the couples are fictional, some are real. But one couple who should make every list is Heloise and Peter (Pierre) Abelard. Not only were they real people, but their affair is documented and their love letters survive. And the tale has everything.
Abelard was not only gifted, but arrogant, handsome, dashing, charming, etc. He was a man of influence with a great many friends and enemies. Heloise was a strong-willed young woman and a beautiful one. They fell in love and became lovers.
Then (as now) a teacher is not supposed to seduce a student. In addition, Abelard was supposed to be abstinent. And it goes without saying that Heloise was supposed to be chaste. So, by breaking all the rules, they were setting themselves up for a fall.
Sherry Jones tells the story from Heloise’s point of view, using fragments from the surviving letters to introduce the chapters and set the tone. She is able to capture the brilliance of these two extraordinary people and the electricity of the meeting of their minds. It’s possible to believe that the passion springs from that excitement, even though passion soon takes over and the meeting of their bodies consumes more of their time than the lessons Heloise is supposed to be having.
The author paints these larger-than-life characters with an exquisite attention to detail. They are very real and flawed, and though the reader may wince at some of their choices, it’s also easy to see how the choices were made. It would not be easy to live in those times, much less to live, love, and leave behind such a legacy as Abelard and Heloise did with their writings and their story. With The Sharp Hook of Love, Sherry Jones has given us a beautifully written, passionate, fresh look at that legacy.
Disclaimer: I received this book free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.
This is my 19th book read for the historical fiction challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry.