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The Nature of Monsters [Hardcover]

Clare Clark
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 1 2007
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.


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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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First Sentence
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. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monsters come in many forms .. June 29 2007
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Ms Clark did such a great job of depicting monsters and monstrous behaviour in this novel that it took me while to find redeeming qualities in any character. Except, of course, for Mary.

Set in early 18th century London, this novel focusses on aspects of life that are really confronting and uncomfortable. In many ways, this is an Hogarthian London - perhaps just around the corner from Gin Lane. It won't appeal to everyone but it should appeal to those who enjoyed Ms Clark's first novel 'The Great Stink'.

We meet both the best and worst of humanity in these pages but underpinning it all is the depiction of London herself.

Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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4.0 out of 5 stars More than worth a read Jan. 8 2010
Format:Paperback
I will start off by saying I blind bought this book and that I was told by a friend who read the inside slip that it was a horror novel. I needed something to read at work that night basically and I was in a hurry. When I got through the first few chapters and realized it wasn't the kind of novel I thought it was I almost stopped, however as I continued to read the story started to draw me in more and more. I am a 22 year old male who reads mostly sci-fi and horror so I can imagine most people would enjoy this book.

I will not spoil anything, but I will say that this novel is well worth picking up.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Monstrously Disappointing Oct. 4 2008
Format:Paperback
I bought this book based on two criteria: 1) the reviews I had read/heard etc; 2) the cover looked nice haha

Unfortunately, although the book looks nice on my bookcase, it failed to live up to the reviews. I have not read Clark's other novel "The Great Stink" but I don't think that that should discredit my review.

First of all, I should note that the book started off decent enough. I could see how it was going to develop into an intriguing and interesting account of England shortly after the Fire. Sadly, my joy soon faded soon after Eliza moved into Mr. Black's apothecary. I soon realized that I felt no sympathy for Eliza, and honestly it's hard to stay interesting in a book when you don't really care what happens to the main character. I can't say much more without divulging secrets and spoiling it (not that would be a bad thing considering how it all turns out) so let me just say that until the last chapter, you feel nothing for Eliza, due mostly with the way that she feels about other characters and how she treats them.

Secondly, although the 'journal' entries of the apothecary are unique and interesting, soon it just gets confusing, especially since they start talking about things that are never mentioned prior to or after that entry. Many times I was left wondering what the heck it was supposed to be telling me. Then it changed from not only journal entries but random letters and notes from various people, again with no consequence or mention of them ever again. Argh!

Thirdly, as the only child of a mid-wife/herbalist you would think that Eliza would be a little more saavy and knowledgeable when it comes to pregnancy/child-birth and (abortion)herbs.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  32 reviews
42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You are the agent of the Devil himself." May 9 2007
By Luan Gaines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The year is 1718. Blinded by the excessive passion of first love, Eliza Tally finds herself pregnant at sixteen, her titled young seducer willing to pay to have the fallen girl placed in service to an apothecary in London. A calculating mother cosigns the bargain and Eliza is whisked to the domicile of her employer, Mr. Black, who hides his face under a black veil and performs questionable research to gain the attention of the London Royal Society. This is a desolate place, consisting of Grayson Black's office, the apothecary shop and the living quarters, ruthlessly attended by the severe Mrs. Black and an apothecary's assistant, Edgar Pettigrew. The only other resident is the mentally and physically defective servant, Mary. The nature of Black's experiments cloaked in secrecy, an oppressive gloom pervades every day of Eliza's service, the girl increasingly burdened by the hopelessness of her predicament.

For all his detachment, like some otherworldly Jekyll and Hyde, Black's intentions are unquestionably evil. The house is dark, shadowed, Eliza performing her chores as the baby grows within her, her fears exacerbated in this monstrous place, her only companion the dim-witted, disfigured Mary. Yet Mary is strangely kind, with her clumsy attempts to communicate. There is something unhealthy in this home, the sense of menace growing with the child in her belly. Trapped in a web of confusion, Eliza casts about for a means of escape, her natural instinct to survive her circumstances. As her original antipathy toward Mary morphs slowly into a grudging affection, Eliza realizes that there are more dangers afoot in Black's household, her innate intelligence whispering in her ear, "run".

What are Mr. Black's intentions? What will happen when her baby is born? And how can Eliza escape the grasping aggression of Edgar Pettigrew?

Murky and atmospheric, Clark's London is dingy, dirty and filled with the contradictions of class and circumstance, the future as obscure as the so-called scientific treatise Black pens to rationalize his experiments. There is little cause for hope in Eliza's dank corner of London, save the notice of a French bookseller who offers the promise of a better future. Clark's powerful novel reeks with indefinable menace, the two women victims of conditions they struggle to define, imagination fueled by fear. Black personifies the ultimate victimizer, the unfettered ego of a man fascinated by the very qualities of the women who so baffle him, ascribing his own twisted lusts to what he fails to comprehend, but manipulates for profit. Monsters come in many guises. To scientific pretenders like Black, the marrying of those of low class to his research may bear the promise of a reputation before others of his ilk. To those who endure such overweening pride and unconscionable cruelty, he is the monster. In this acute study of human nature, pride and greed, Clark once again mines the underbelly of London for her treasure: innocence, men and monsters. Luan Gaines/2007.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monsters come in many forms .. June 20 2007
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Ms Clark did such a great job of depicting monsters and monstrous behaviour in this novel that it took me while to find redeeming qualities in any character. Except, of course, for Mary.

Set in early 18th century London, this novel focusses on aspects of life that are really confronting and uncomfortable. In many ways, this is an Hogarthian London - perhaps just around the corner from Gin Lane. It won't appeal to everyone but it should appeal to those who enjoyed Ms Clark's first novel 'The Great Stink'.

We meet both the best and worst of humanity in these pages but underpinning it all is the depiction of London herself.

Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to make a monster Oct. 5 2008
By Baking Enthusiast - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Clare Clark has to be one the bravest contemporary fiction writers around. Two years ago, she debuted with "The Great Stink" and if anyone thinks that was unsavory enough, Clark returns with "The Nature of Monsters," a gothic horror that will test your tolerance of the macabre with some of the coarsest, meanest, creepiest, most menacing people you can find in London of 1718.

This isn't the mannered tea-party London of Pygmalion's Eliza Doolittle. This is the filthy, horrid, revolting London of Eliza Tally. Jilted by a wealthy lover her money-hungry mother had baited, the impoverished and pregnant Eliza is sold to an apothecary, Grayson Black. She expects that Black will terminate the pregnancy in exchange for serving as maid in his household. But Black has other plans--he's a mad scientist whose use for Eliza goes beyond having his boots polished and his meals served.

Black is consumed by a treatise on "maternal impression," theorizing that a pregnant woman's experiences, when taken to extremes while with child, will determine the physiognomy of the infant. A mother who is terrorized will likely produce a deformed child. One who takes a fancy to animals will produce a freak of nature, half human, half beast. Black believes that the hideous port-wine birthmark that disfigured his face was the direct cause of his mother's terror during the Great London Fire of 1666.

The Black household is straight out of a horror flick. Mrs. Black is mean-spirited and just a tad less strange than her husband. Mary, the other maid, is mentally-challenged, with loathsome features and child-like behaviors. The demented and evil Black is a towering figure in black with a veiled hat that covers his marked face, terrorizing Eliza, Mary and tradespeople. The Royal Society does not take his experiments and theories seriously, and as he becomes more obsessed with his writings and addicted to opium, he becomes insanely dangerous, torturing Eliza, hoping she would produce a monster. By the time Eliza discovers the truth behind Black's secret experiments, it might be too late for her to save herself and Mary.

The plot may be fantastic but it's written tightly with intense yet eloquent prose. The story moves quickly, and Clark does not let up on the suspense. It's a ghastly and twisted tale and one almost needs a breath of fresh, cleansing air after having spent many hours on its sinister plot. As gothic horror, "The Nature of Monsters" is a well-written sensational, rich with the dark and creepy elements of the genre, and thankfully, never becomes laughable or absurd.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I hate to judge my content alone but this book disturbed me so much I can't say I enjoyed it at all June 18 2008
By Lilly Flora - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is without a doubt one of the most disturbing and horrifying things I have ever read. I don't mean in style or plot, but in subject matter and character. If you can't stand reading about evil beyond belief and the conceit of a man that believes himself allowed to do anything to further his glory, then stay away from this book. It gave me nightmares for weeks and I needed a month long break in the middle to allow me to finish it.

This is the story of Eliza, who is being paid by the wealthy parents of her unborn child's father to disappear to London to work as maid in an apothecary's household. But Eliza has no idea of the true nature of the mysteriously veiled Dr. Black's work, or the effect he is hoping it will have on her unborn child. But when the Eliza experiment fails and the master goes after Mary, the half witted maidservant next, Eliza knows they must escape and save the child now growing in Mary's belly.

The writing in this book is really very good and Eliza is a very well written character but (though I hate to judge a book on content alone) there are parts of this novel I wish I could erase from my mind. It's not horror novel horrifying, but more what man is capable of horrifying. In spite of the ending, reading this book was a trial for me and I can't say I recommend it (unless you are much less prone to fictional tragedy than me.)

Two stars
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So dark and gritty that it's unenjoyable, but features realistic, meaningful character growth. Moderately recommended June 30 2008
By Juushika - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In 1718 England, sixteen-year-old Eliza is recently married, but when she conceives her husband renounces her. She is sent to London to work for an apothecary, Mr. Black, that she believes will rid her of her burden--but Black has other plans. He is writing a treatise on the effect of female imagination on unborn children, and he intends pregnant Eliza to be his first case study. Taking place deep within the dark and dirty underbelly of 18th Century London, The Nature of Monsters is almost so gritty that it's unpleasant to read, and an excess of narration makes some of the plot developments predictable, but Eliza's slow character development are both skillful and realistic. While not particularly memorable, this is a well written, non-romanticized view of historical London. I moderately recommend it.

Midway through The Nature on Monsters, piled beneath misogyny and ill-conceived science, London's poverty and its stinking streets, and bitter characters who refuse to extend a helping hand to anyone, I stopped to wonder: just why was I continuing to read a book that was so gritty and realistic that it failed to be enjoyable? In its premise, the book appears to offer a dark insight into the worst of human nature--the sort of story which is intriguing primarily because it is so discomforting--but the story itself lacks intrigue. Eliza discovers things as she goes along, but her narration is intersperced with pages from Black's writing which reveal plot points to the reader long before Eliza realizes them, removing any sense of mystery. And there is nothing wickedly romantic about the darkness within the book. Historical, dry, and so deep within the underbelly of London that there is almost no beauty left, The Nature of Monsters quickly becomes unpleasant to read and maintains this level of disgust and dirt for the vast majority of the book.

I continued reading because I hate to leave a book unfinished, and in time the book redeems itself. Slowly, realistically, Eliza evolves to become a character that the reader likes and admires--and respects even because of the setting from which she rises. Such realistic character development is rare and it shows great skill. London herself is never quite redeemed in the same way (indeed, the only solution to its ills seems to be to escape them), but the dark setting nevertheless has a purpose: to act as background and foil for a very real character. Other characters are not quite so realistic, there are some loose ends remaining at the conclusion, but Clark's writing is well-researched and moves at a smooth, even pace.

In short, there is enough meaning in Eliza's character growth to make the book worthwhile if the reader has the patience (and stomach) for the dark and dirty content which proceeds it. The Nature of Monsters is not particularly memorable, and it pales in comparison to other examples of historical fiction that focuses on the underbelly of London (such as the films From Hell and The Libertine), but it is aptly written, well researched, and a strong example of meaningful and realistic character growth in the protagonist. I moderately recommend it.
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