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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Book Review: Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue

Slammerkin tells the story of Mary Saunders, an eighteenth-century girl who is attracted by a bright piece of ribbon and pays a heavy price for it. Cast out by her family, she falls into prostitution, though when the winter weather bites she voluntarily enters a home for fallen women. After that she is propelled out to a country town where much of the novel takes place.

I found this to be an exceptional book. While it was thoroughly readable, it was also completely immersed in the eighteenth-century. Something some historical fiction writers struggle with is appropriate tone and language but Donoghue doesn't have this problem. The language certainly feels authentic and that's one of the most important things for drawing you into this novel. Another important aspect is the characterisation of Mary. She's an excellent creation, one completely comprehensible no matter what unexpected lengths she goes to. Alongside her, all the secondary characters are well-drawn and individual in their own right, from fellow prostitute, Doll, down to the child, Hetta, who Mary encounters later in the novel. Nothing felt out of place or wrong.

Donoghue has taken the very bare bones of a newspaper story and made them into something tangible and touching. She explains the basis of the novel in an author's note at the end of the book but I would urge you not to read that until you're finished with the story. I was surprised by the climax in a way I wouldn't have been had I read that note.

One final point: Donoghue creates a gloomy eighteenth-century London which doesn't seem false. Both her descriptions of London and then of Monmouth are excellent and evocative. That was the final jigsaw piece for making this into an exceptional read. As you might've gathered, I thoroughly recommend it!  


The Virtual Victorian said...

I really want to read this book. Thank you for reminding me about it.

CharmedLassie said...

I'm also interested in reading The Sealed Letter about the Codrington divorce. After reading this I'm pretty sure it'll be enjoyable.