The Nature of Monsters
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The Nature of Monsters

3.7 14
by Clare Clark
     
 

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1666: The Great Fire of London sweeps through the streets and a heavily pregnant woman flees the flames. A few months later she gives birth to a child disfigured by a red birthmark.

1718: Sixteen-year-old Eliza Tally sees the gleaming dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral rising above a rebuilt city. She arrives as an apothecary’s maid, a position

Overview

1666: The Great Fire of London sweeps through the streets and a heavily pregnant woman flees the flames. A few months later she gives birth to a child disfigured by a red birthmark.

1718: Sixteen-year-old Eliza Tally sees the gleaming dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral rising above a rebuilt city. She arrives as an apothecary’s maid, a position hastily arranged to shield the father of her unborn child from scandal. But why is the apothecary so eager to welcome her when he already has a maid, a half-wit named Mary? Why is Eliza never allowed to look her veiled master in the face or go into the study where he pursues his experiments? It is only on her visits to the Huguenot bookseller who supplies her master’s scientific tomes that she realizes the nature of his obsession. And she knows she has to act to save not just the child but Mary and herself.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

PRAISE FOR THE NATURE OF MONSTERS

 
"As a storyteller, Clark is endowed with verve and intelligence, but her larger gift, dazzlingly in evidence throughout both her fine novels, lies in the originality of her imagination. She gives us a world that feels alive and intense, magnificently raw."—The New York Times Book Review

 

"The pleasures here are many, and one hopes this latest excursion into the underside of historic London won't be her last."—BookForum

Miranda Seymour
In The Nature of Monsters, Clark again shows an impressive ability to combine historical accuracy with vivid language and a strong plot, confirming her claim to a place in historical city-lit by returning to London for a tale of mystery, skulduggery and (in what seems set to become a hallmark of her work) intensely described physical sensation … As a storyteller, Clark is endowed with verve and intelligence, but her larger gift, dazzlingly in evidence throughout both her fine novels, lies in the originality of her imagination. She gives us a world that feels alive and intense, magnificently raw.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

British author Clark's second novel, a moving historical set in early 18th-century London, surpasses her acclaimed debut, The Great Stink(2005). When teenager Eliza Tally gets pregnant, her mother sells her into servitude to an apothecary, Grayson Black. Eliza struggles to survive in a bizarre household, unaware that her new master is interested in the effects of various emotions on her unborn child. Isolated save for a kindly, slow-witted fellow servant, Mary, Eliza develops an unlikely relationship with a French bookseller, Mr. Honfleur, who supplies Black with the scientific treatises he uses to inform his sadistic researches. Eliza hopes Honfleur will provide her with the means for escape. Unlike The Great Stink, this suspenseful tale contains no whodunit element, but as in her previous book, Clark's empathetic portrait of the powerless and the victimized will remind many readers of Dickens. Author tour. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
"Clark has talent and energy to burn."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Clark's empathetic portrait of the powerless and the victimized will remind many readers of Dickens."
Library Journal

London in 1718 is not a pretty place, particularly if you happen to be young, female, pregnant, and alone. Abandoned by her mother and husband, Eliza Campling is taken into the household of an apothecary and his wife, where she believes she will be relieved of her pregnancy only to come to the dawning realization that the apothecary has other designs on the fetus. Grayson Black, in regular correspondence with the great minds of his day, fancies himself a serious scientist researching the effects of external stimuli on grotesque birth deformities. He takes this research further by attempting to influence the outcome of Eliza's pregnancy by treating her with preparations designed to cause hallucinations and terrors. Eliza takes small comfort from her bleak situation in her friendships with a fellow servant and a friendly bookseller and from the possibility of creating and selling her own cure-all medication. As she did so successfully in The Great Stink, Clark again transports readers to another time and place in this mesmerizing tale of life in the mean streets of 18th-century London. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/07.]
—Barbara Love

School Library Journal

Adult/High School -Clark is a first-rate storyteller. The setting is 18th-century London, a dark and unwelcoming city of massive size. Eliza Tally, pregnant and unmarried, has been sent there by her mother to begin service as a maid for apothecary Grayson Black. His shop is managed by Mrs. Black, who holds an unyielding grip over all the affairs of the elusive man. Upon her arrival, Eliza meets Mary, the other servant, whom she finds annoying and bothersome at first. Eliza's new home sits in the shadow of the impressive landmark of St. Paul's Cathedral, and the young woman becomes readers' eyes and ears as she vividly conveys the sights and sounds of the city's bustling life. She is disturbed by the changes in her body as the baby within her grows. At the same time, she discovers that all is not right with the mysterious apothecary and his ever-vigilant wife. His interests in her and her condition make her increasingly uncomfortable as she perceives that she is somehow an unwitting party to his secrets, and she and Mary come to rely on one another for warmth and companionship. Ultimately, Eliza learns that monsters can take many forms, and that human behavior is oftentimes most fearsome. The novel's well-described setting and its well-realized themes of unplanned pregnancy and exploited female labor will engage teen readers.-Catherine Gilbride, Farifax County Public Library, VA

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
The Guardian Hilary Mantel

"Brave, full-hearted . . .A compelling story which will draw in, for different reasons, fans of Sarah Waters' dense narrative complexities and Andrew Miller's metaphysical horrors. Clark meets the 18th century on its own terms: knocks its wig off, twists its private parts and spits in its eye."
The Guardian - Hilary Mantel
"Brave, full-hearted . . .A compelling story which will draw in, for different reasons, fans of Sarah Waters' dense narrative complexities and Andrew Miller's metaphysical horrors. Clark meets the 18th century on its own terms: knocks its wig off, twists its private parts and spits in its eye."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780156034081
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
05/12/2008
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
(w) x (h) x 0.93(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt


i

1718

Afterwards, when I knew that I had not loved him at all, the shock was all in my stomach, like the feeling when you miscount going upstairs in the dark and climb a step that is not there. It was not my heart that was upset but rather my balance. I had not yet learned that it was possible to desire a man so and not love him a little.

Oh, I longed for him. When he was not there, the hours passed so slowly that it seemed that the sun had fallen asleep in the sky. I would wait at the window for whole days for the first glimpse of him. Every time a figure rounded the corner out of the trees, my heart leapt, my skin feverish with hope even as my eyes determined it to be someone to whom he bore not the slightest resemblance. Even Slack the butcher, a man of no more than five feet in height and several times that around the middle, whose arms were so pitifully short they could barely insert the tips of his fingers into the pockets of his coat. I turned my face away hurriedly then, my cheeks hot, caught between shame and laughter. How that beer-soaked dumpling would have licked his lips to imagine the tumbling in my belly at the sight of him, the hot rush of longing between my thighs that made my fingers curl into my palms and set the nape of my neck prickling with delicious anticipation.

In the dusty half-light of the upper room, breathless against the wall, I lifted my skirts then and pressed my hand against the slick muskiness within. The lips parted instantly, the swollen mouth sucking greedily at my fingers, gripping them with muscular ardour. When at last I lifted my hand to my mouth and licked it, remembering the arching fervour of his tongue, the perfect private taste of myself on his hot red mouth, I had to bite down hard upon my knuckles to prevent myself from crying out with the unbearable force of it.

Oh yes, I was alive with desire for him, every inch of me crawling with it. A whiff of the orange water he favoured, the touch of his silk handkerchief against my cheek, the remembrance of the golden fringe of his eyelashes or the delicate whorl of his ear, any of these and less could dry my mouth and melt the flesh between my legs to liquid honey. When he was with me, my sharp tongue softened to butter. I, who had always mocked the other girls for their foolish passions, could hardly breathe. The weaknesses in his face—the girlish pinkness of his damp lips, the irresolute cast of his chin—did nothing to cool my ardour. On the contrary, their vulnerability inflamed me. Whenever I was near him, I thought only of touching him, possessing him. There was something about the untarnished lustre of his skin that drew my fingertips towards him, determining their movements as the earth commands the sun. I had to clasp them in my lap to hold them steady.
The longing intoxicated me so I could barely look at him. We sat together in front of the empty fireplace, I in the bentwood chair, he upon a footstool at my feet. My mother’s knitting needles clicked away the hour, although she kept her face turned resolutely towards the wall. For myself I watched his hands, which were narrow with long delicate fingers and nails like pink shells. They dangled impatiently between his legs, twisting themselves into complicated knots.

It never occurred to me to offer him my hand to hold. Slowly, as though I wished only to make myself more comfortable, I adjusted my skirt, exposing the white flesh of my calves. His hands twitched and jumped. I lifted my petticoats a little higher then. The fingers of his right hand stretched outwards, hesitating for only a moment. I could feel the heat of them although he did not touch me. My legs trembled. And then his fingertips reached out and caressed the tender cleft behind my knee.

The ungovernable swell of desire that surged in my belly knocked the breath from my lungs and I gasped, despite myself. Silently he brought his other hand up to cover my mouth. I kissed it, licked it, bit it. He groaned softly. Beneath my skirts his right hand moved deftly over my skin so that the fine hairs upon my thighs burst into tiny flowers of flame. I slid down towards him, my legs parted, and closed my eyes, inhaling the leather smell of his hand on my face. Every nerve in my body strained towards his touch as inexorably, miraculously, his hand moved upwards.

Unhooked by longing, my body arched towards him. When at last he reached in to touch me, there was nothing else left, nothing in the world but his fingers and the delirious incoherent frenzy of pure sensation they sent spiralling through me, as though I were an instrument vibrating with the exquisite hymns of the angels. Did that make him an angel? My toes clenched in my boots, and my belly held itself aloft in a moment of stillness as the flame quivered, perfectly bright. I held my breath. In the explosion I lost sight of myself. I was a million brilliant fragments, the darkness of my belly alive with stars. When at last I opened my eyes to look at him, my lashes shone with tears. He raised a finger to his lips and smiled.

Oh, that smile! When he smiled, his mouth curved higher on one side than the other, dimpling his right cheek. That dimple spoke to me more eloquently than his eyes, for all their untroubled blueness. And it was surely one hundred times more fluent than his speech, which was halting at the best of times and rutted with hiccupping and frequently incomprehensible exclamations. Even now, when so much time has passed and I must squint to recognise the girl in the bentwood chair, the recollection of that tiny indentation can unsettle me. Back in those days, it was as if, within its perfect crease, there was concealed a secret, a secret of unimaginable wonder that might be known only to me. For like everyone who falls for the first time under the spell of corporeal desire, I believed myself a pioneer, the discoverer of something never before identified, something perfectly extraordinary. I was godlike, omnipotent, an alchemist who had taken vulgar flesh and somehow, magically, rendered it gold.
Had you asked me then, I would have said I loved him. How else to explain how desperately, ferociously alive he made me feel? It was only afterwards, when the lust had cooled, that I saw that I was in love not with him at all but rather with myself, with what I became when he touched me. I had never thought myself handsome. My lips were too full, my nose insufficiently imperious, my eyes with their heavy brows set too wide apart. I was denied the porcelain complexion I secretly longed for. Instead, my face seemed always to have a sleepy, bruised look about it, as if I had just awoken. But when he touched me, I was beautiful. It was only afterwards, as he offered his compliments to my mother and prepared to return home, that I became a girl once more, commonplace, cumbersome, rooted by my clumsy boots to the cold stone floor.

He patronised my mother from the beginning, his address to her exaggeratedly courteous, a pastiche of itself. As for her, she bridled at every unctuous insincerity, her habitually suspicious face as eager as a girl’s.

“I am but your humble servant, madam. There could be no greater privilege than to oblige you,” he would say, bowing deeply before throwing himself into the bentwood chair and allowing my mother to loosen his boots. He did not trouble to look at her as he spoke. His tongue was already moistening his lips as he smiled his lazy smile at me, his eyes stroking my neck and the slope of my breasts.

I’m ashamed to say that at those moments I cared not a jot for her humiliation. He could have called my mother a whore or the Queen of Sheba, it would have been all the same to me. The pleasantries were a necessary chore to be endured, but my heart beat so loudly in my ears I hardly heard them. I thought only of the tug of my breath inside my chest, the shimmering anticipation between my thighs. As long as he touched me, as long as he smiled at me and caressed me, his fingers drawing a quivering music from my tightly strung nerves, my mother’s dignity was not a matter of the least concern. As long as that tiny indentation in the corner of his mouth whispered its secrets to my heart and to my privities, he might have unsheathed his sword and sliced off my mother’s head and I would have found reason to hold her responsible for his offence.
Copyright © 2007 by Clare Clark

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

What People are saying about this

Hilary Mantel
"Brave, full-hearted . . .A compelling story which will draw in, for different reasons, fans of Sarah Waters' dense narrative complexities and Andrew Miller's metaphysical horrors. Clark meets the 18th century on its own terms: knocks its wig off, twists its private parts and spits in its eye."

Meet the Author


CLARE CLARK is the author of four novels, including The Great Stink, which was long-listed for the Orange Prize and named a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and Savage Lands, also long-listed for the Orange Prize. Her work has been translated into five languages. She lives in London.

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The Nature of Monsters 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a page turner. The heroine is very real and believable, the story is so in-your-face with detail and realism that you can almost smell the London street the shop is located on. A fascinating read, a head spinning concept. Enjoyed this book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The only reason I'm giving this book a 4 out of 5, is because I haven't finished it yet! I was so enthralled by the first 150 pages, that i had to write a review. What amazing artistry with a pen the author has. Beautifully written...like a harpsicord...She makes you read each sentence over again. I can't wait to read the rest of this writers books. Kuddos!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
It was a suspenseful, difficult-to-put-down kind of book for me. Shocking, too. Probably not for everyone but I find it incredibly interesting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If nothing else, you'll surely develope an appreciation for how women were treated in the 1600's. That alone is enough to bring tears to one's eyes, but the atrocities committed against these helpless souls will enrage as well as break your heart. A very well written piece of fiction that is all too plausible.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
so-so