Book Review-ish Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Still on the read a novel or two a week kick since the holidays, thank you very much. The latest read was Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross. It was kind of cool and kind of interesting, but also a little formulaic and predictable.

As a work of historical fiction, it must needs play fast and loose with the narrative- there just isn’t enough information about the possibly real person of Pope Joan to write anything approaching scholarly, but also entertaining. Woolfolk Cross seems to have done much research about the era (814-888), but she also fell too much into the too easy narrative of the historical romance for my liking. I could get the same thing from Phillipa Gregory (who I’m a great fan of, but most definitely has a formula for her work), but Gregory would have wrapped it up much better and I would not have expected to get something more substantial out of it, as Pope Joan seemed to have been promising.

The book attempts to take a feminist look at the role of women in that period of history and in the church in general and I think the author means to be critical of how women were treated, but she seems to shoot herself in the foot by using romance novel type plot twists- ones that are both all too convenient and undermine the feminist message.

I’m not saying that Disney actually did this better with Mulan– just that in the final measure of things, Mulan seems to come away as much smarter than Joan ever was. Kind of sad, huh?


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