Slammerkin [NOOK Book]


Born to rough cloth in working-class London in 1748, Mary Saunders hungers for linen and lace. Her lust for a shiny red ribbon leads her to a life of prostitution at a young age. A dangerous misstep sends her fleeing to Monmouth and the refuge of the middle-class household of Mrs. Jones, her mother's childhood friend. There she becomes the seamstress her mother always expected her to be and lives the ordinary life of an ordinary girl.

Although Mary becomes a close confidante of ...

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Born to rough cloth in working-class London in 1748, Mary Saunders hungers for linen and lace. Her lust for a shiny red ribbon leads her to a life of prostitution at a young age. A dangerous misstep sends her fleeing to Monmouth and the refuge of the middle-class household of Mrs. Jones, her mother's childhood friend. There she becomes the seamstress her mother always expected her to be and lives the ordinary life of an ordinary girl.

Although Mary becomes a close confidante of Mrs. Jones and has a catalytic effect on the entire household, her desire for a better life leads her back to prostitution. Ultimately, Mary remains true only to the three rules she learned on the streets of London: Never give up your liberty. Clothes make the woman. Clothes are the greatest lie ever told. And it is clothes, their splendor and their deception, that will finally lead Mary to disaster.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Mary Saunders, a lower-class London schoolgirl, was born into rough cloth but hungered for lace and the trappings of a higher station than her family would ever know. In 18th-century England, Mary's shrewd instincts will get her only so far, and she despairs of the plans made for her to carve out a trade as a seamstress or a maid. Unwilling to bend to such a destiny, Mary strikes out on a painful, fateful journey all her own. Inspired by the obscure historical figure Mary Saunders, Slammerkin is a provocative, graphic tale and a rich feast of an historical novel. Author Emma Donoghue probes the gap between a young girl's quest for freedom and a better life and the shackles that society imposes on her. "Never give up your liberty," Mary's closest friend Doll, instructs. But as Mary's journey takes her from the seedy streets of London, where she is forced to toil as a prostitute, to a small town in Wales, where she works as a dressmaker's assistant, she learns just how difficult it is to follow her friend's advice.

The term "slammerkin" refers to both a loose gown and a loose woman, and this intelligent work is filled with rich images of dressmaking, detailing the painfully stiff stays the wearers endured and the fabrics and trims that served as features and as demarcations between the social classes. Another piece of wisdom Doll offered Mary was, "Clothes make the woman," but, as Mary Saunders discovers herself, the desire for fine clothes makes her a woman she could never have imagined. (Summer 2001 Selection)

Kay Chubbuck
Absorbing and entertaining...a roller-coaster ride through the 18th century. Buckle up.
Baltimore Sun
Elle Magazine
A powerful and unforgiving tale of London in the 1760s...Slammerkin is a novel of real force.
From The Critics
Donoghue has produced an absorbing, moving, and intelligent work of fiction . . . an exhilarating dialogue with the literature of the period and an imaginative attempt to capture the climate of change in the 1760s.
Times Literary Supplement
Donoghue has produced an absorbing, moving, and intelligent work of fiction . . . an exhilarating dialogue with the literature of the period and an imaginative attempt to capture the climate of change in the 1760s.
The Times Literary
"Donoghue has produced an absorbing, moving, and intelligent work of fiction . . . an exhilarating dialogue with the literature of the period and an imaginative attempt to capture the climate of change in the 1760s."
The Financial Times
Finding a language that inhabits but is in no way weighted down by its time, Donoghue has made of an 'obscure and brutal story' a compelling novel . . . and a brilliant historical variant on the 'girl about town.'
Possessing a quick mind and an indomitable taste for what money can buy, Mary Saunders, on the street at age 15, takes up prostitution in 18th-century London, along with many other poor young girls of similar background. The title of the book refers to the name of a loose dress and also a loose woman. After a brief stay in the Magdalen Hospital, more to improve her health than to repent her sins, Mary goes into "service" at the home of Thomas and Jane Jones in the Marches. They were childhood friends of Mary's mother and have no knowledge of her reversal of fortunes. Even though Mary demonstrates expert skill as an embroiderer in their shop, her love of money and fine clothes tempts her once again. This grim piece of history, based in part on the life of an actual historical figure, provides a glimpse of the lower classes who inhabit the "Seven Dials" and the sordid district around St. Giles and whose descendants a century later will appear in the pages of the novels of Charles Dickens. Although this colorful, well-written story may seem depressing, from the outset clues foreshadow the probable outcome, and the denouement satisfies the moral justice required both by events and the time period. Because of the graphic sex scenes, the language, and the horror that ultimately unfolds, this novel isn't recommended for most teen readers, although without doubt mature readers among them would relish the story. Category: Paperback Fiction. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students and adults. 2001, Harcourt, Harvest, 352p., , Lewiston, ME
Library Journal
In 18th-century England, a young girl's longing for finer things--especially finer clothes--leads to murder. Based on a true story, this book has become an international best seller. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher

"Superb . . . A novel of real force, filled with unforgettable sights . . . A profoundly entertaining and intelligent book."—Elle
"[A] colorful romp of a novel . . . Impossible to resist. Donoghue paints a spirited picture. . . . Fabulous."—The New York Times Book Review
"Intelligent and mesmerizing."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"This book rocks from the title on. A spectacular job."—USA Today
"What a great read this book is! Donoghue is a real writer, and she's elevated her racy story close to art."—The Washington Post Book World
"[A] transporting read."—Mademoiselle

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547443294
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/1/2002
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 153,941
  • File size: 358 KB

Meet the Author

Emma Donoghue

EMMA DONOGHUE, born in Dublin, is a writer of contemporary and historical fiction whose eight novels include the internationally bestselling Room—winner of both the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Canada and Caribbean region) and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and a finalist for the Man Booker Prize—as well as Slammerkin, Life Mask and The Sealed Letter. She lives in London, Ontario, with her partner and their two children.

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    1. Hometown:
      London, England and Ontario, Canada
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 24, 1969
    2. Place of Birth:
      Dublin, Ireland
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English and French, University College Dublin, 1990; Ph.D. in English, University of Cambridge, 1998
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter one
Ribbon Red

The ribbon had been bright scarlet when Mary Saunders first laid eyes on it, back in London. 1760: she was twelve years old. The fat strip of satin was the exact colour of the poppies that grew in Lambs Conduit Fields at the back of Holborn, where the archers practised. It was threaded into the silver hair of a girl Mary used to look out for at the Seven Dials.

Mary's mother-known as Mrs Susan Digot ever since she'd remarried, a coalman this time-had told her daughter often enough not
to pass through the Seven Dials on her way back from Charity School.
A pond for the worst scum in London, she called the Dials. But the warnings drew the girl like a hot fire on a winter's night.

Besides, she was never in a hurry to get home. If it was still light when Mary reached the family's two-room cellar on Charing Cross Road, she knew what she'd see through the low scuffed window: her mother shipwrecked in a sea of cheap linen, scaly fingers clinging to the needle, hemming and cross-stitching innumerable quilted squares while the new baby wailed in his basket. There was never anywhere to sit or stand that wasn't in the way or in the light. It would be Mary's job to untie the baby's foul swaddlings, and not say a word of complaint because, after all, he was a boy, the family's most precious thing. William Digot-the Digot man, as she mentally called her stepfather-wouldn't get home from work for hours yet. It would be up to Mary to stand in the pump queue on Long Acre till nightfall for two buckets of water so he could wash his face white before he slept.

Was it any wonder, then, that she preferred to dawdle away thelast of the afternoon at the Dials, where seven streets thrust away in seven different directions, and there were stalls heaped with silks, and live carp butting in barrels, and gulls cackling overhead, and the peddler with his coats lined with laces and ribbons of colours Mary could taste on her tongue: yellow like fresh butter, ink black, and the blue of fire? Where boys half her size smoked long pipes and spat black on the cobbles, and sparrows bickered over fragments of piecrust? Where Mary couldn't hear her own breath over the thump of feet and the clatter of carts and the church bells, postmen's bells, fiddles and tambourines, and the rival bawls of vendors and mongers of lavender and watercress and curds-and-whey and all the things there were in the world? What d'ye lack, what d'ye lack?

And girls, always two or three girls at each of the seven sharp corners of the Dials, their cheeks bleached, their mouths dark as cherries. Mary was no fool; she knew them for harlots. They looked right through her, and she expected no more. What did they care about a lanky child in a grey buttoned smock she was fast outgrowing, with all her damp black hair hidden in a cap? Except for the girl with the glossy scarlet ribbon dangling from her bun, and a scar that cut through the chalky mask of her cheek-she used to give Mary the odd smile with the corner of her crooked mouth. If it hadn't been for the jagged mark from eye to jaw, that girl would have been the most gorgeous creature Mary had ever seen. Her skirts were sometimes emerald, sometimes strawberry, sometimes violet, all swollen up as if with air; her breasts spilled over the top of her stays like milk foaming in a pan. Her piled-high hai was powdered silver, and the red ribbon ran through it like a streak of blood.

Mary knew that harlots were the lowest of the low. Some of them looked happy but that was only for barefaced show. "A girl that loses her virtue loses everything," her mother remarked one day, standing sideways in the doorway as two girls flounced by arm in arm, their vast pink skirts swinging like bells. "Everything, Mary, d'you hear? If you don't keep yourself clean you'll never get a husband."

Also they were damned. It was in one of those rhymes Mary had to learn at School.
The harlot, drunkard, thief and liar,
All shall burn in eternal fire.
On cold nights under her frayed blanket she liked to imagine the heat of it, toasting her palms: eternal fire! She thought of all the shades a flame could turn.

Mary owned nothing with a colour in it, and consequently was troubled by cravings. Her favourite way to spend any spare half hour was to stroll along Piccadilly, under the vast wooden signs that swung from their chains; the best was the goldbeater's one in the form of a gigantic gilded arm and hammer. She stopped at each great bow of a shop window and pressed her face to the cold glass. How fiercely the lamps shone, even in daylight; how trimly and brightly the hats and gloves and shoes were laid out, offering themselves to her eyes. Cloths of silver and ivory and gold were stacked high as a man's head; the colours made her mouth water. She never risked going inside one of those shops-she knew they'd chase her out-but no one could stop her looking.

Her own smock was the dun of pebbles-in order that the Patrons of the School would know the girls were humble and obedient, Superintendent said. The same went for the caps and buttoned capes that had to be left at School with the books at the end of every day, so parents wouldn't pawn them. Once Mary tried to smuggle The Kings and Queens of England home for the night to Charing Cross Road, so she could read it under the covers by the streetlight that leaked into the basement, but she was caught going out the School door with the book under her arm and caned till red lines striped her palms. Not that this stopped her, it only made her more resourceful. The next time the teacher forgot to count the books at the end of the day, Mary tucked A Child's Book of Martyrs between her thighs and walked out with stiff small steps, as if in pain. She never brought that book back to school at all. Her favourite illustration was of the saint getting seared on a gigantic griddle.

As well as her daily dress Mary had a Sunday one-though the Digots only went to communion at St-Martin-in-the-Fields twice a year-but it had long since faded to beige. The bread the family lived on was gritty with the chalk the baker used to whiten it; the cheese was pallid and sweaty from being watered down. If the Digots had meat, the odd week when Mary's mother finished a big batch of quilting on time, it was the faint brown of sawdust.

Not that they were poor, exactly. Mary Saunders and her mother and the man she was meant to call Father had a pair of shoes each, and if baby Billy didn't learn to walk too fast, he would have a pair too, by the time he needed them. Poor was another state altogether, Mary knew. Poor was when bits of your bare body hung through holes in your clothes. Poor was a pinch of tea brewed over and over for wee it was the colour of water. Falling down in the street. That smell of metal on the breath of that boy at School who collapsed during Prayers. "Blessed are the meek," the Superintendent was intoning at the time, and she stopped for a moment, displeased at the interruption, then continued, "for they shall inherit the earth." But that boy hadn't inherited anything, Mary decided. All she'd done was fainted again the next morning, and never come back to School again.

Yes, Mary knew she had much to be thankful for, from the leather soles under her feet, to the bread in her mouth, to the fact that she went to School at all. Dull as it was, it was better than mopping floors in a tavern at eight years old, like the girl in the cellar beside theirs. There weren't many girls who were still at School when they turned thirteen; most parents would call it a waste of education. But it had been Cob Saunders' fondest whim that his daughter should learn what he never had-reading, writing and casting account-and as a matter of respect, his widow saw to that the girl never missed School. Yes, Mary was grateful for what she'd got; she didn't need her mother's sharp reminders. "We get by, don't we?" Susan Digot would say in answer to any complaints, pointing her long callused finger at her daughter. "We make ends meet, thank the Maker."

When Mary was very young she had heard God referred to as the Almighty Master, and ever since then she'd tended to confuse him with the man her mother quilted for. The delivery boy would arrive with a sack of linen pieces every week or so, and dump it at Susan Digot's feet: "The Master says to get this lot done by Thursday or there'll be hell to pay, and no more sta or he'll dock you tuppence on the shilling." So in the girl's mind the Mighty Master owned all the things and people of the earth, and at any time you could be called to account for what you had done with them.

Copyright ©2000 by Emma Donoghue 2000, published by Harcourt, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Reading Group Guide

1. Slammerkin is based on a real case of a girl who killed her employer in 1763. How do you think this factual basis has affected Emma Donoghue's writing of the novel? If you had not known that it was based on fact, would you have read Slammerkin differently?

2. Why do you think an author would choose to set a novel in the past rather than the present? Should novels like Slammerkin be put in the category of historical fiction, or does that make them sound formulaic? Does a story set in the past have to be absolutely true to the facts of history? Which aspects are most important for a realistic writer to get 'right': the physical surroundings, the dates of events or inventions, the dialogue, the mindset of the characters? Might those also be the ones that have been the least documented?

3. As authors often do, Donoghue has created a protagonist with many unlikeable qualities. What did you find hardest to tolerate about Mary Saunders? What about her character or situation made you keep reading?

4. According to one of Donoghue's sources, the real Mary Saunders killed for the sake of 'fine clothes'. In the novel, two of the whores' rules are about dress: 'Clothes make the woman,' and 'Clothes are the greatest lie ever told.' Explore the different things clothes mean to people in Slammerkin.

5. It could be said that Slammerkin is an archetypal story about the longing for, and the killing of, the mother. Do you agree? Compare the kinds of 'mothering' Mary gets from Susan Digot, Doll Higgins, and Jane Jones.

6. Slammerkin contains some graphic sex scenes. Did these add to or detract from your enjoyment of the book? How did prostitution compare to the otherways women earned a living? Do you think Mary's prostitution is crucial to the story, or could Donoghue have chosen some other 'trade' for her heroine?

7. In the eighteenth century, the word 'family' could mean the whole household, servants included. From Chapter Four on, Slammerkin is told from the points of view of six different members of the Jones's household. Why do you think Donoghue has done this? How did this broadened focus affect your reading of the second half of the book? Did it make you see Mary differently?

8. Although American historical novels often include black characters, Slammerkin is unusual in this respect. Why do you think Donoghue gave Abi such a central role in the story? What effect does she have on the other characters' behaviour, and on how we judge them?

9. Mary Saunders's trade has made her suspicious of men. Think about how the men she gets to know in Monmouth (Mr. Jones, Daffy, Cadwaladyr) relate to her. Which of them sees her most clearly? Which of them does most to make her question her own hostility?

10. Is Slammerkin a woman's story, or an exploration of powerlessness in all its forms? Try to arrange the members of the Jones's household in a hierarchy, paying attention to their gender, race, age, physical ability, legal position, wealth, and job status. Can you draw a line between the haves and the have-nots? Who is least free, most free?

11. When Mary Saunders moves from London to the Welsh Borders, she is startled by the many pagan traditions that have survived there. Is this just 'local colour', or does the clash between urban London and traditional Welsh culture play an important part in Mary's story?

12. When do you think Mary's downfall begins: when she starts whoring for Cadwaladyr's customers? When she breaks off her engagement to Daffy? When she refuses to lend Abi the money? Ultimately, why do you think she kills Mrs. Jones? Is it her choice, or her fate?

13. It is sometimes said that a novel should only be set in a past era if its story grows out of the specific realities of that era, rather than being a story that could have happened anytime. Do you agree? How much is Mary Saunders a product, or a victim, of her historical moment? How much of your character depends on the circumstances of your upbringing?

14. Unlike the majority of films and novels, Slammerkin offers no happy ending. Did you find it depressing? What kind of pleasures can be gained from reading about suffering? Could you imagine a plausible 'happy ending' for Mary Saunders, before the murder, or even after it?

15. Slammerkin, set in an era of high birth and mortality rates, is full of dead parents and dead children. With life expectancy in developed nations now in the 70s or 80s, and the birth rate very low, what has changed in the way family members tend to relate to each other today?

16. Does a historical novel have to comment obliquely on modern life? A century and a half after the murder of Mrs. Jones, how relevant are the novel's issues (for instance, class, prostitution, slave labour, rural versus urban life, the criminal justice system) to the society we live in now? How much has changed, how much has stayed the same? Does reading Slammerkin make you relieved to be living now rather than then, or is there anything remarkable about that period you feel we have lost?

Copyright (c) 2002. Published by Harcourt, Inc.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 58 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 59 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 17, 2011

    Eh... it's OK

    I stayed with this book because it covers interesting aspects of history not usually found at the center of books, clothes and fashion... and prostitution. There could have been much more emotional development of the main characters; without it, I kept finding myself saying, "That doesn't make sense...", or not caring about them as much as I like to, but it was enjoyable enough.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2012

    Great read

    I loved this book until the last few chapters. It is difficult to get to know a character so well, when you like so little about her. But the challenge makes the book even more interesting. I kept wanting to know what would happen next.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2012

    Great story

    This is just way more detailed and eventful than what the 'back of the book' says. I gave 3 stars instead of more because the ending seemed to be weak.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Read many times over. Highly entertaining.

    If you like historical fiction, this book is for you. The author takes an event from the past and composes a story around it. Her idea of what could have been going on in the mind of Mary Saunders makes for delicious reading.
    This book is:
    nuanced - it's interesting to read more than once which I rarely do.
    dramatic - the main character, Mary Saunders, voice comes through vividly. You can feel what it's like to BE Mary Saunders.
    A great escape from the everyday! This has to be a major component of a good book, at least in my little world.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2005

    Different in a GREAT way!!!!!!

    OK - I'll level with you - this book is not for the faint of heart. It can be very raunchy - but it is completely in context and only adds to the story. I even liked it! for the critics of the raunch, if you don't want to read about the REAL life of a whore, don't pick up a book about a whore! I am so sick of the chick-lit type stuff that keeps coming out - and this was a refreshing change. It kept you going from beginning to end. Even the end is different - it doesn't end like every other book out there! I loved this book. I have lent it out it to many friends, and every one of them has high praises for it, too. If you like something not in the grain of the common book on the shelves these days - read this book. It's a very easy, quick read, too. I highly recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2003

    Good for the historical fiction reader

    I enjoy historical fiction and I enjoyed this book. The plot was engrossing and well developed. However, I found it hard to empathize and relate to Mary. There was something about her that was hard to love. A serious read. Somewhat indecent.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 5, 2015

    In Slammerkin Emma Donoghue took a brief, sparse news ar

    In <i>Slammerkin</i>
    Emma Donoghue took a brief, sparse news article of a woman, Mary Saunders in the mid 1700's and turned it into a tale that transports us to the grime and grit of 18th Century London, and to the small town life of Monmouth Wales.  

    Mary's hard life gets harder when she makes a bad choice for a pretty item she wants and she finds herself making her way as a street prostitute, learning to survive with the help of another prostitute, Dot.  Donoghue somehow manages to show how they accept their fate and find some level of contentment, while still showing how dehumanizing such a life was.  Mary and Dot aren't particularly likable, yet I found myself engaged in their world and their fate, and as the story progressed I found myself hoping that somehow, Mary would learn to make better choices.

    But sometimes in life, people don't learn and their ambitions -- in this case Mary's desire for pretty clothes - get the better of them.  As the book and Mary spiral to the devastation she seems drawn to, Donoghue is able to show the ramifications of choice both on the family and friends who take Mary in when she leaves London (after another poor choice) and ends up in Monmouth, and as well as the more individual level.  

    Donoghue populates <i>Slammerkin,</i>
    with a great cast of memorable characters - each with a distinct voice and story - that compare and contrast with Mary.  Characters like Dot, a lively, principled prostitute; Abi, the slave who, because of Mary, begins to think of freedom;  the Joneses, an ambitious couple who can't see beyond their provincial beliefs; Daffy, who is as ambitious as Mary but more cautious; and Mrs. Ash, a governess, a righteous and bitter woman, who dislikes Mary from the moment she arrives.  There are parallels that weave between the characters that reinforce the themes the Donoghue builds throughout the novel.

    Besides the characters, the world Donoghue transports us to is wonderfully painted, and again is built of contrasts.  Donoghue is noted for her historical research and her ability to capture particular times and places of the more 'common folk' rather than the glitz and glamor of a period.  I have little interest in clothing and fashion, yet I found myself fully drawn into Mary's love of it.  

    is not a romantic story or vast historical saga, but rather an intimate look at the grit and grime of a life that was a fight against the odds from the start.  While not a cheery novel, it is engaging on many levels.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2013


    Story of a prostitute in London middle 1800's. I read this when it we first released and it is a five star historical novel of fiction. Still have it on my real ville book shelf. I recommend it. Draws you in all the way to the unexpected end. Verry well wrote by a esteemed novelist.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2013

    Truly, for me it was a wonderful read! I so enjoyed the details

    Truly, for me it was a wonderful read! I so enjoyed the details of the period in old England but then I got caught up in the story. Very interesting read!   I highly recommend it if you like this type of authentic story!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2012

    Loved it

    Interesting book that I couldnt put down

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2012


    This is such a waste of my time. I got my first clue at page 200 by which not much happens. So monotonous. Read Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, if you want good reads! I should have put down the book befpre having wasted the rest of my night to get to page 327 , the last page..... I guess the only virtue of this book is that it makes us appreciate well written books as this one truly pales in comparison!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2012

    Very good, but HEAVY

    As a fan of Emma Donoghue, I thought this would be similar to Sealed Letter. Not at all. Very heavy. 14 year old Mary is banished from her home and is taken in by a prositute. As a way to survive, she adopts the lifestyle.

    Very good, but very sad.

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  • Posted March 4, 2011

    Intoxicating read

    This book has been one of the best historical fictions I have read, and I am a huge fan of the genre. The book is extremely well written and engaging from beginning to end. The characters are so well drawn, whether you like them or not, you KNOW them. What an intriguing story!! It is very unique.

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  • Posted November 18, 2010


    I'm a huge fan of historical fiction, but I really didn't enjoy this book. First of all, it was too long. And I like long books. The author of Slammerkin seemed to take forever, though, to "get to the point" of this book, and it dragged. Also, it was a bummer book. I had high hopes of good resolution as the book began but the promise of the beginning fell flat toward the middle, and by the end I just didn't care. It was difficult to connect with the main character so as her story continued I ceased to care about the decisions she made.

    Maybe this is petty, but the premise of the book, that a "slammerkin" is a loose gown or a loose woman, I was unable to verify with any source. I found the term "slammern" which was a term for a loose woman, but not Slamerkin. It bothered me.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 2, 2009

    London filth in 1700s hard to absorb, but well worth reading

    This book was chosen by my book group and ended up being a great choice for us. The twists and turns of Mary's life brought up many questions, comments and emotions! The hard times in London in the 1700s were tough to imagine, but Emma Donoghue brings it all to life flawlessly and makes this novel hard to put down from the first page. Not a light read with a fairy tale ending, but a novel full of robust content that will keep you on the edge of your seat!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2005

    A Dark, Intriguing Tale

    This is a fascinating account of an 18th century London prostitute-turned-servant. It is not just a look at the life of a teenage prostitute but at the relationship between servant and mistress. While Mary, led both by greed and a desire to better herself, isn't exactly a likeable character, the book is so well-written and thought out with its themes and coincidences that I would definitely reccommend it. Pg. 171 'Nan Pullen once said a strange thing about her mistress, the same woman who would one day hand Nan over to the magistrate. Masters and mistresses were only cullies by another name, according to Nan. You pretended to be satisfied, grateful, even. You served them, but they never knew you. You robbed them of whatever you could, because whatever they paid, it was never enough for what they asked.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2004

    Definitely Interesting

    The life of Mary Saunders is a study in the amount of rage a person can repress when forced to continually swallow the bile caused by heinous acts left unpunished and injustices condoned by society. The question is not why Mary committed murder but why she didn¿t commit murder more often? Mary¿s love of finery begins as the natural inclination of any adolescent girl but in time her attraction to beautiful clothes represents the life she wishes she had as it is only the aristocratic and very wealthy who can afford such clothes. And, as in any society, the aristocratic and very wealthy are untouchable. Mary, too, would like to be untouchable. She yearns for the safety that being one of the elite brings in 17th-Century England. At such a time, even a hint of harming one of the wealthy could put the offender in jail, let alone carrying out the act. This is why the life of a serving maid is not security enough for Mary. It is still too vulnerable to the whims and caprices of a master and/or husband. Unfortunately, circumstances are stacked against Mary and it takes just one more injustice to send her over the edge. This book is an absorbing tale but not always a pretty or comfortable one. It definitely stays with the reader.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2004

    Good Girl Goes Bad in One Act

    I found the book disappointing after the reviews and flyleaf information. Miss Donoghue¿s descriptions of Mary¿s life at home and school, life on the London streets, and in the workhouse leave much to be desired. Mary jumps directly into the life of a streetwalker with almost no forethought or regrets. The novel lacked some richness of description of life on the streets of London or other characters. Other than self-absorption, Mary shows little characterization or development. What motives, other than clothes, did Mary have? Miss Donoghue could have provided a more engrossing novel by filling in details about Mary and her world rather than racing towards the story¿s end like a thoroughbred chasing to the finish line.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2003

    great to the end

    the book was great and was well thought out till the end where things seemed to happen randomly. It was very dissappointing.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2003

    I'm speachless...

    This book is the best book that I have picked up and read from front to back. I have a really hard time finishing books and this book I just could not put down. There isn't enough good I can say about this book but will be definately be checking out Emma Donoghue's other books! If you really enjoy Donoghue's writings check out Federico Andahazi. He is also an amazing writer!

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