Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Nature of Monsters

by Clare Clark

Another book I read because of reviews. I was intrigued at first, but didn't actually put the book on my list until after a second or third review. It's good, but not great, but definitely good enough to recommend for historical fiction junkies. Reminded me a little of Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson.

I'd like to say there's a strong feminist undercurrent, but the author's handling of it is uneven — a matter of opportunities missed, perhaps. There's a reference to midwifery being supplanted (undermined and sabotaged, in point of fact) by medical "science" at a time when the science was plagued by all sorts of bizarre and mistaken theories, such as the idea that certain experiences or emotions during pregnancy could result in monstrous babies (with dog heads or monkey tails, harelips, birthmarks and the like). But the story ultimately skates over the issues of the vilification and persecution of midwives and the loss of herb lore and "folk remedies" to pin the shortcomings of the emerging culture of male physicians/doctors on the opium-fueled delusions and resentments of a frustrated (and himself disfigured) apothecary.

Ultimately I think this book is more about the way each of us is utterly alone, the challenges of taking care of someone else while struggling with the question of whether anyone will ever take care of us. Rather bleak stuff, but not quite on the level of a Thomas Hardy.

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