SLAMMERKIN by Emma Donoghue
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This boldly imagined historical fiction—reminiscent, though by no means imitative, of both Defoe’s classic Moll Flanders and Margaret Atwood’s recent Alias Grace—represents a quantum leap forward for its Irish-born (now Canadian) author.

The antiheroine and protagonist is Mary Saunders, a young woman whose ingenuous lust for “fine clothing” (e.g., the “slammerkin,” which denotes both a loose gown and a “loose woman”) leads her into prostitution and murder. Donoghue (Stir-Fry, 1994; Hood, 1996) has triumphantly reimagined the life of a real historical figure of whom nothing is known beyond those few facts—beginning with Mary’s lonely London girlhood, and expulsion from her stepfather’s home when she becomes pregnant at 14; continuing throughout her thriving career as an “independent” whore, and retirement, as a charity-case “Penitent”; then climaxing at the country home of clothiers Thomas and Jane Jones, who employ and befriend Mary until her past rears its head and sets the servant against her masters in a violent and bloody resolution of their “differences.” It’s a harrowing, abundantly detailed chronicle of woman’s fate, sharply attentive to both class conflict and individual psychology, enlivened by such superbly realized figures as the willful child-woman Mary, her rough-hewn fellow prostitute and mentor Doll Higgins, and especially her eventual victim Jane Jones: a remarkable amalgam of silliness, benevolence, selflessness, and utter vulnerability. The story’s range of emotion and implication is further broadened by a masterly narrative choice: Mary’s doomed stay with the Joneses is shown through the eyes of all the characters who are affected, in fact afflicted, by her ingrained amorality and determination to have what she desires whatever the cost. Only in overstressing the weary half-truth that respectable married women and fallen women alike “sell” themselves to men does Donoghue stumble—and that’s a scarcely detectable blemish on a rich, vibrant canvas that brings the age of Hogarth and Richardson stunningly to life.

Irresistible, and deeply satisfying. Donoghue has surpassed herself.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-15-100672-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2001

Kirkus Interview
Emma Donoghue
April 3, 2017

In Emma Donoghue’s new middle-grade novel, The Lotterys Plus One, Sumac Lottery is nine years old and the self-proclaimed "good girl" of her (VERY) large, (EXTREMELY) unruly family. And what a family the Lotterys are: four parents, children both adopted and biological, and a menagerie of pets, all living and learning together in a sprawling house called Camelottery. Then one day, the news breaks that one of their grandfathers is suffering from dementia and will be coming to live with them. And not just any grandfather; the long dormant "Grumps," who fell out with his son so long ago that he hasn't been part of any of their lives. Suddenly, everything changes. Sumac has to give up her room to make the newcomer feel at home. She tries to be nice, but prickly Grumps's clearly disapproves of how the Lotterys live: whole grains, strange vegetables, rescue pets, a multicultural household....He's worse than just tough to get along with—Grumps has got to go! But can Sumac help him find a home where he belongs? “Full of clever names and wordplay, this engaging tale is moving without veering into sentimentality,” our critic writes in a starred review. “For all the Lotterys’ apparent eccentricity, the novel delves into universal themes of family relationships that will resonate with readers from all backgrounds.” View video >


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