Theodora by Stella Duffy

In sixth century Constantinople society consisted of two factions – the Blues and the Greens – and the inhabitants were born into one or the other, very much like Glasgow. Theodora’s father had been killed by his own bear leaving his wife to bring up her small girls on her own. She had been determined to keep her daughters out of the circus but when her faction, the Greens, refused to support them financially she had no option but to marry again and set her daughters to be trained in circus performing, dancing, tumbling and when they were 12 or 13 they would become prostitutes.

It was a hard life, particularly for Theodora whose character was a mixture of obstinacy and determination, she was positively ‘thrawn’! But her personality takes her from being a circus performer to concubine of Hecebolus, Governor of Pentapolis, and when he tires of her she leaves, taking some of his most precious possessions with her.

Knowing that Hecebolus would send his men after her, Theodora attempts to get back to Constantinople with no success but she falls in with a Christian sect and just when she thinks that she is wanted as a Christian, she realises that they want to use her in much the same way that everyone else has – prostitution, if necessary.

This is a well written book, it’s the first one by Stella Duffy which I’ve read so I don’t know how it compares with her other books. She’s very good at evoking the atmosphere of thronging marketplaces and heat. There are quite a lot of swear words in it, necessary to convey the atmosphere of the circus and those involved with it, so you might not want to give it to anyone of a prudish disposition.

As you would expect from a book about a prostitute there is sex aplenty but thankfully there are no graphic descriptions of it because that can make me feel a wee bit squeamish at times.

I didn’t absolutely adore it but it was entertaining and I’ll be trying out more books by Stella Duffy.

As I’m a Virago First Look member I was sent Theodora by Virago for review.

Theodora by Stella Duffy

Theodora cover

A big thank-you to the people at Virago as I’ve been lucky enough to be sent a review copy of Theodora by Stella Duffy so it’s going to be jumping the queue and I’ll be getting stuck into it soon. I just have to finish reading The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey first as I prefer to concentrate on one book at a time and I’m not far from the end.

I hadn’t heard of Theodora before so the first thing I did when I opened the jiffy bag this morning was to pull out my Chambers Biographical Dictionary. The entry for Theodora is:

Theodora (c.500-548) Byzantine empress, wife of Justinian I and the daughter of a circus bear-tamer. An actress and noted beauty, she married Justinian in 525. As his most trusted counsellor she wielded enormous influence in the work of government, and saved the throne by her courage at the crisis of the Nika riots (532). She lavished her bounty on the poor, especially the unfortunate of her own sex.

The Virago cover says: Theodora Actress. Empress. Whore.

It all sounds fascinating!