FOR THY GREAT PAIN HAVE MERCY ON MY LITTLE PAIN by Victoria Mackenzie
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’d never heard of Julian of Norwich or Margery Kempe before reading Victoria Mackenzie’s exceptional reimagining of their stories in For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy On My Little Pain. Both towering figures in the history of English literature - they were responsible for the first book written by a woman and the first autobiography, respectively - the two met briefly in the mid-15th century, and it is this meeting that forms the climax of Mackenzie’s novel.
In short, almost incantatory first-person passages, Julian and Margery take turns recounting their lives leading to that moment. Julian, a plague widow, begins to see Christ and commits her entire self to his service as an anchoress (in a scene with all the horror of A Cask of Amontillado). Margery, a woman of privilege, also sees Christ and becomes a travelling mystic, roundly ridiculed and condemned. A chance encounter sees Margery seek an audience with Julian. What happens when they meet changes the course of English letters.
Poetic, structurally-innovative and utterly engrossing, For Thy Great Pain… brings into the light two women who ought to be household names. At least for us book nerds.
For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy On My Little Pain by Victoria Mackenzie