Saturday, June 23, 2007
"The Nature of Monsters," by Clare Clark
In The Nature of Monsters, set in 18th-century England, 16-year-old Eliza Tally becomes pregnant by a devious young man from a wealthy family. Eliza's mother strikes a bargain with the man's father, selling off Eliza to be an indentured servant to an apothecary in London. Eliza believes she is to be rid of the child, and after a year, may return to her home with her reputation secure. However, apothecary Grayson Black has a much fouler plan in store. He is intent on making a name for himself in the science world, believing he can create freaks of nature by manipulating a pregnant woman's emotions, environment, and fears. Eliza's only comfort at the Black manor is her unlikely friendship with the half-wit servant, Mary. Eliza must find a means of escape before her master's unhealthy obsessions harm newly pregnant Mary.
This book is not a light-hearted read or beach book. It is dark and disturbing. I'm a fan of horror novels, but this was more frightening in that I could imagine it actually happening. There are no ghosts or goblins, no axe murderers. It is 1718, where women have no voice and no choices.
The writing was thorough, detailed. Though I did wonder if Eliza's dialogue was appropriate, since she used a fair amount of "big" words for a peasant. Yet at other times, such as when speaking to a bookseller, she seemed not to fully understand when he would quote prose or poetry. It was clear that Eliza was a bright girl, so why then the difference of her comprehension level? Also, I wonder if most people then did have such an extensive vocabulary and modern times have weakened our language skills, or if Clark just took artistic license with her character. Either way, I still loved this book.