Thursday, January 24, 2008

"The Nature of Monsters" by Clare Clark

This is something that I probably would have never read if I hadn't seen the book come across the desk here at the library. It doesn't have the most eye-catching cover, and the title is just OK. But when it got turned in, for some reason, I found myself looking at it, reading the jacket, etc. I thought it might be interesting but had too many other books set aside to read at the time, so I put in a reserve for it down the road, right around my Christmas week off.

Well, the book came in and I just sort of kept looking at it, like "what was I thinking?" It's a period piece, not the sort of thing I usually enjoy. I let it sit in the "to read" pile for quite a bit, until I realized it was about due, and thought I should at least pick it up and give it the 50 pages that Nancy Pearl recommends.

I am so glad I did, too, because it's a very good book. Again, not the sort of action-type work I usually read; this is classical music vs. alternative rock area. But you know what? I like classical music every once in a while!

Our heroine is Eliza Tally, a young woman in England in 1718, who finds herself pregnant after being "married" to a wealthy young man from a good family in her hometown. Only, his family knows nothing of the "marriage", and indeed, the union is not legally recognized, Eliza's mother having performed a jumping-the-broom ceremony so that the young man could lay with her daughter and not besmirch Eliza's character. After coming to the conclusion that her plans to ensnare the family's fortune have collapsed, Eliza's mother returns with the announcement that her daughter will take a position with an apothecary in London. Eliza is under the impression that this gentleman will give her shelter while taking care of her "condition", then returning her when the baby has been done away with.

Imagine her shock and horror when she arrives at the apothecary's gloomy home and discovers that she is expected to carry to term as well as act as a maid-servant for the household. In addition, her master is considered something of a monster himself, always wearing a hat with a black veil so that others cannot see his face. Turns out he has a rather large port-wine birthmark on his face, something that he's convinced was caused by his own mother being caught in a fire when she was pregnant with him. What Eliza doesn't know at first is that she is actually a test subject for the apothecary; he's attempting to write a treatise on the affect of the emotional condition of mothers on their children. He attempts to replicate his own "deformity" in another baby by preying on the fears of Eliza (in this case, that of dogs).

As I said, this is a very well written period piece, one that had me anxious to find out what was going to happen. The author does not romanticize the time whatsoever; the squalor of London in the early eighteenth century is palpable and frightening. Equally scary is the obvious drug addiction of the apothecary himself; the opium that he continues to ingest in larger and larger doses makes him the real "monster" of the work. I would highly recommend this book to readers looking for something a bit more serious; it would be worth your time and effort.

No comments: