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THE GREAT DIVORCE by Valerie Martin


by Valerie Martin

Pub Date: March 2nd, 1994
ISBN: 0-385-42125-7
Publisher: Doubleday

 Martin's first novel since Mary Reilly (1990) masterfully weaves together three tales about the great divorce between two women-- separated by 150 years--and their husbands, and between the human species and the rest of nature. Ellen Clayton is a New Orleans zoo veterinarian whose writer husband Paul's affections are cooling again because he's found a younger lover. But this time it's different: Paul's fallen in love with his mistress and dreams of divorce. Much of the time he's away from Ellen and their daughters, Celia and Lillian, he's actually spending with Donna, but when he's working, it's on a book about ``cat woman'' Elisabeth Schlaeger--the only white woman ever executed in Louisiana after killing her wealthy husband Hermann in 1845. Elisabeth's story, which soon detaches itself from Paul, unfolds in an inexorable pattern of domination by a cruel, fascinated husband determined to assert his mastery over her. Back in the present, Camille, the keeper of the zoo's wild cats, contemplates her affinity with an ailing black leopard named Magda--a bonding so close it echoes Elisabeth's claim that she killed Hermann after her spirit entered the body of a great black cat--as she stumbles through a procession of beastly gropings that pass for love. All three agonized heroines (four, if you count Magda) wrestle with the paradox of a civilization whose mores sink its members ever deeper into savagery. Though it lacks the high concept of Mary Reilly--the cat woman is no match for Jekyll and Hyde's maid--Martin's novel gathers a quietly, painfully gripping force.