My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A Raw but Gripping Page-Turner.
I couldn’t help but race through this book and get absorbed in the murky world of Mary Saunders’ 18th Century England at any available opportunity.
Though there’s no clear storyline as per se, there doesn’t seem to be any significant end point or climax as you’re plodding along through the pages, I was still completely gripped by this book. Emma Donoghue’s depiction of this historical world is somewhat bleak and raw in all of its grimly detailed glory but it’s the perfect background to explore a character as peculiar and unique as Mary Saunders.
I’ve noticed that its Mary’s character herself that seems to be the make or break with most readers of the book with many hating her but just as many readers having their hearts go out for her. I was among the latter crowd – seeing Mary as a somewhat troubled young adult being introduced to a harsh reality all too soon was truly moving. It’s understandable why some readers would turn against her unlikable nature, at times I was sitting book in hand almost tearing my hair out in exasperation as she made yet another clumsy move landing herself in more trouble. However, that was a key part of the very appeal that kept me invested in the story, hooked on page after page. What would it be like for a person like this trying to find their place and advance themselves in such a cut-throat world? It’s an interesting question that was explored wonderfully by Donoghue’s talents.
The richly created characters in this novel are addictive through the lens of young Mary’s shrewd calculation as she grows increasingly suspicious of everyone and everything around her. Through Donoghue’s clear talent in character development, this distrust grows more cumbersome on Mary’s life to heartbreaking effect. I found myself constantly second-guessing how Mary felt about the situation around her due to the way Donoghue portrayed her emotions indirectly through other characters’ reactions to her, it was a brilliant way to depict Mary’s world without sensationalising everything that happened around her. Without that technique, I think the bleakness of events would have definitely became overbearing given there already depressing content for the most part. This also managed to show off (again, to great effect!) the intricacies of the other characters in the novel as it left the reader having to puzzle out their motivations.
As much as I enjoyed this novel, there were a couple of things I did have a problem with.
Firstly, I believe a few storylines were left uncomfortably hanging and one in particular could have definitely done with some closure to really add a greater impact to the ending. I’m guessing this was intentionally avoided so as to emphasise the abruptness of the end of the book but an epilogue would have been so satisfying.
Secondly, what was with the chopping and changing of viewpoints in the second half of the book? It was distracting and really detracted from Mary’s story without adding a great deal. With a deft hand and great attention to detail, this could’ve been done a lot better without the jumping around from character to character in short bursts.
And lastly…the ending. Okay, it took me completely by surprise and I just couldn’t put the book down after its big, entirely unexpected, climax but it saddened me a little that it didn’t quite mesh with everything we thought we knew about the characters involved. Something just wasn’t right there and it felt like Donoghue had to over-explain it in order to try and make it work. That being said, it was one hell of a shock and gave it a unique twist that will probably linger in my mind for a long time.
Make sure you give this book a go – it may be bleak and gritty but its an immersive story like no other.