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Reviewed by Ankita Shukla for Readers' Favorite
In Entertaining Mr. Pepys by Deborah Swift, Mary Elizabeth was born into an affluent family. She lived a comfortable life in her father’s house until he married a woman named Dorcas. Her father was so wrapped around Dorcas’s finger that he didn’t pay enough heed in selecting a husband for Bird (Mary Elizabeth’s nickname). When Christopher Knepp showed an interest in marrying Bird in exchange for a good dowry, her father agreed. What followed was a miserable life for Bird. Knepp bombarded her with household tasks, showed no affection, and occasionally beat her. All her efforts to win his affection remained fruitless, and she started imagining ways to be free of him. In the pursuit of freedom, she came across the theater, where she could be anyone and do anything. She made it her mission to be a part of the theater and earn enough money to leave Knepp. While attending one of the shows, she stumbled upon a handsome man named Samuel Pepys. The attraction seemed so intense that she found herself unable to forget him. They were both married to different people, but they could not deny the spark. Romance was anyway not her first priority; she had to find a way to convince Knepp to allow her to join the theater.
Deborah Swift is an excellent storyteller. The fusion of historical facts and fiction in her books is so flawless that it is hard to know where reality ends and fiction begins. Entertaining Mr. Pepys is set in the seventeenth century; the author has presented the dialogues, the characters, their thought processes, and major mishaps during those times in the most authentic manner. Bird’s conflicting emotions towards Knepp are very well executed. She hates him due to his actions, yet cannot help herself defending him in front of other people. She wants him to be well-groomed and presentable. Her pain, owing to the neglect of her father, is so genuinely described that developing sympathy for Bird comes as easy as breathing. As a reader, I found myself cursing Knepp and Bird’s father.
Another character who left a strong impression in the story has to be Livvy. By introducing her, the author has freely explored the condition of slaves, their misery, and their exploitation by their masters during those days. Deborah Swift has further expanded the diversity by discussing the inner turmoil of a cross-dresser through another side character. Although it is a long read, the pace never slows down. Packed with twists, the story gracefully moves towards its climax, keeping readers on edge throughout the book.