CBR 15 Bingo: Bodies, Bodies – Most everyone in this book is concerned with Petrus’s body – specifically the coat of hair that covers all of it.
Pedro, a young boy with the rare condition that caused him to be covered with hair from head to foot, is bought as a gift for the French king, and eventually is married to Catherine, the beautiful daughter of a penniless merchant.
I have heard of the story of Petrus Gonsalvus, but only in passing, merely the fact that he existed, a sort of historical oddity – a man who was brought to a king’s court and made his living by his hairy countenance. In this much embroidered retelling of his life, Greeley succeeds in bringing him heart-wrenchingly to life.
There’s a lovely, fairytale-like quality to the writing – which surely you must expect when Petrus and Catherine are depicted as an inspiration for Beauty and the Beast – but also a hazy feel to it, fitting when much of the story is the memories of a pair of people coming to the end of a long, eventful life. I really enjoyed the way the relationship between Petrus and Catherine slowly comes to life, developing and changing over decades.
I also liked how the author wove the wider history of 16th century France into the background of the story – she remains cognizant of the setting and how the Gonsalvuses’ lives are affected by the turbulent politics of this era. But what really elevated this book to five stars for me was how the characters grapple with the fact that they are effectively enslaved, dependent on the whims of the royals who shelter them, and how the author shows us that in many ways, Petrus’s hairiness is both a blessing as well as a cross to bear.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is my honest and voluntary review.