Very cool book about a poor girl in Victorian England who discovers that she can assert some level of finacial and emotional independence by becoming a prostitute. Her drive to avoid being someone else's chattel leads her to a number of drastic, and often unwise, decisions. Good portrayal of the severely limited number of options given to women historically. Also interesting because it refuses to romanticise the protagonist - you cheer her on her paths to freedom, but despise her willingness to abuse others to get the things she wants (and you pity her short-sightedness). Despite the cover picture, not a bodice-ripper by any means.
This book is terrific! If you're interested in the 1700s England/Wales, how young girls made money then (including prostitution), and class issues, this is the book for you. I loved the writing style. Donaghue wrote from the main character's point of view until the very end of the book when she switches to the POV of other characters also. It worked very well to give a larger picture of the story. I loved this book!
I picked up this book because I enjoyed The Crimson Petal and the White (Michael Faber) so much. This was very much in the same vein, a historical character study of a prostitute, but heavier on the character study and lighter on the romance feminist triumph. Mary was one of those characters that you know you should hate, but end up loving and siding with as the book develops.
Overall, not a great, but a reasonably good novel on the life of a prostitute in the mid 18th century. Worth reading.
I didn't really want to like Mary, but I found myself liking her very much and having a lot of pity for her and hoping that things would work out for her. If only she had not longed so much for the red ribbon. How differently would everything have worked out? But then again, would her life have really been that much better had she not wanted the ribbon?
Watching Mary try to rise above her period-enforced station, taking shortcuts to satisfy her longings, is much like watching a slow motion train wreck. You know she ends up in the gaol as the story starts that way and watching her impetuosity telegraphs how she gets there.
Many of my friends have raved about this 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 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.
I really enjoyed the first 3/4 or so of this book, but it took a bizarre twist toward the end which almost ruined the whole thing for me. However, I still recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and doesn't mind a little raciness.
This book is a fascinating and horrifying read of a woman's life in 1748 London. The descent into a life of prostitution, the struggle to better one's self, and the despair of a disappointing life resonate with a modern day woman. The desire for the better things in life conflict with the desire for a better quality of life. An unexpected twist at the end will leave the reader disturbed and create as many questions about life as it gives answers.
I decided to order this book because of the top reviews it received - "a romp", "a swoon of a novel" - and discovered that to me it is neither of those. It is instead an extremely well written but depressing and somewhat horrifying history of the short life of a young woman in 18th century England. I love historical novels and this is a good one, and I'm sure quite factual, but the details of the daily life of the young teen thrown out by her parents to live on her own are sordid. I finished reading it, but I can't say I really enjoyed it.
The first half of this book flies by. We cheer Mary's growing savviness, and lament her impatience. The second half pales (literally) in the mind's eye as Mary leaves her previous self, and colorful London, behind. A great story that I have read and reread, with closure at the end.
This book is an object lesson in the danger of judging a book by its cover -- in this case, a cover suggesting that the story within will be a lush costume drama in which the sensual main character experiences erotic ecstasy. Instead of sensual pleasure, it depicts the violent, disease-ridden details of Mary Saunders' hardscrabble survival amid desperate conditions as an urban prostitute in 18th century England.
I found myself wishing not so much for modern feminism and economic liberation for Mary, but the very least for penicillin, soap, and condoms. Detailed descriptions were cringe-worthy and evocative, and Mary's story was both gripping and bleak. I rooted for Mary as she defended her liberty, but dreaded the next page because with almost every step in search of economic independence and self-determination, Mary's life only became worse.
Mary was both deeply unlikeable and strangely appealing, stubborn and self-defeating, selfish, thoughtless, and admirably determined to control her own destiny. Slammerkin is worth reading, richly evocative in detail, but neither easy nor enjoyable at times.
I read this in two days!! From the back cover:
"A gripping and extraordinarily atmospheric tale.....Not only has Emma Donoghue writen an elegant and literary page turner in the best, contemporary sense, she has also laid a rich feast for lovers of historical novels."
This was an account about a young girl's life in the 1700's in London. Through a series of events she enters into a life of prostitution. This book is historical fiction from this girl's perspective although several of the events in the story actually happened.
I was hooked right from the start when I picked up this book. The main character, Mary, is difficult to like; but I always wanted to find out what was going to happen to her. There were several sections in the middle of the book that seemed flat to me, I kept wanting to race ahead to find out what was going to happen. But I stuck with it and didn't put the book down in the last 100 pages. By that point even though I still wasn't sure if I liked the main character, I wanted some sort of resolution.
This is a fascinating historical tale, based on court records of the time about a London whore - with few good qualities. Mary, the main character is a fifteen year old girl who has interest only in herself--saving her own skin and getting more and more money together to stash in a big old sock under the bed. You will like this book if you like historical fiction. It's a great read. You will close the covers of the book feeling very lucky not to have known Mary Saunders.
I loved this book. Who'd have thought that the subject of child prostitution in Ireland in the 1700's would hold my interest? The story is told with historical facts that taught me something and even with humor in spite of some desperate situations. Loved the relationship between the protagonist and her mentor. I loved "Room" also and am an Emma Donoghue fan!
This is a very good, interesting, well-written book that focuses on a young prostitute in England in the 1700s. It's enjoyable and engrossing, however, it's not my favorite book. It's definitely worth the read, though, and I'll certainly check out other books by the same author.
Didn't really enjoy the first part of this book. Seemed to be too much description of the main character's sexual encounters and not much personal character development. The second part of the book had more story to it. Despite all this, I did enjoy the book.
i don't usually read books like this, but i read a review for it in jane magazine (remember that?) and picked up the hardback for a deal. i read it in a few hours. absolutely amazing. the cover is completely deceiving. it's about a hard life, a chance at redemption, a few bad choices, and a bitter end. definitely worth reading.
WOW--this was a wonderful read. Wasn't sure if i'd like it totally, but i LOVED it. You'll love Mary and the life she lives adds so much to this really sad but charming story. I found the more i read, the faster i found myself reading. Mary's demise was her love of beauty and the edge of life she could just not quite reach, no matter how she tried. This really was well worth time spent reading.
Slammerkin is a quick, bawdy read. Often cited as a book about a prostitute in 18th century England, it's a bit more: an all too common tale of how class and gender conspire to thwart a bright, ambitious female life. Written by an Irish historian with a gift for witty prose, I enjoyed how it transported me to 18th century London and then a household in a small town on the English-Welsh border. I sympathized with the title character although her ambition for "fine clothes" made her life a train wreck about to happen...
Although this received good reviews from the London critics and the reviewers on PBS, I was extremely disappointed. Yes, it is well-written; but it is the unrelievedly dreary tale of a whore in London in the late 18th century. The character development was minimal--I really didn't care what happened to Mary. She dreams of a better life but falls into an "easy" one. At first she is too naive to be believable; then she is just boring. There is no humor or satire, and the social commentary is missing. Try Daniel Defoe's "Moll Flnaders" instead.
This is a very good read. Delves into the fictional life of a young woman in London in the 19th century. "slammerkin:"a loose woman, a loose dress" quoted by author. This is the life of a prostitute and may offend some. But I give it 5 stars.
A very sad and gripping tale of Mary Saunders, born in London in the 18th century, and having been thrown out of her 'home' by her mother, turns to a life of prostitution, one of the few options for young women in those times. The first part of the book is told through Mary's eyes, the rest, after she arrives in Monmouth, is told through the eyes of several characters.
Parts of this book might be hard for some to read, especially when you realize that these things actually happened, over and over again. Very well written, the characters come right off the page, an excellent glimpse into an interesting part of history.
Wow! What a ride was this book. Then to find out that it was based on a true story really makes you think. Excellent details and information about the life and struggles that a young woman would have to go through in that time and how to survive. A really great read.
If you like picaresque historical novels about women, you'll probably like this book. That being said, I preferred Belle Cora by Phillip Margules and My Notorious Life by Sarah Manning. They were tighter.
The first 1/3 of this book was totally solid and compelling. The story of a girl's descent into prostitution in eighteenth century London is can't-look-away horrifying and fascinating. Where this book falters is once Mary leaves London, and boy does it falter. It starts jumping POV to characters who have scarcely been introduced, and the pacing slows down to an excruciating grind, to the point where I almost put the book down. It picks back up in the final third, but it was rough going for a while.
I really like Donahue's use of language and her ability to voice characters so well. I couldn't put down Room or Kissing the Witch. Her masterful language and voicing is still evident, but this book could have used some heavy editing.
Slammerkin surprised me--it kept me turning pages, and wondering a lot about a single woman's chance of survival in 1740's England. I also appreciated the descriptions of clothing so long ago--a slammerkin could be used as a dress to entice men, or worn by ladies on the cutting edge of fashion--not unlike today's camisoles, which used to be hidden under blouses, but have emerged into today's outerwear.
Brutal and dark tale of a London girl whose cravings to rise above the poverty around her leads her to prostitution, deception, and murder. Donoghue's London in the 1700s is vividly drawn and her characters ring true. This is not an easy read, but it will stay with you for a long time.
I didn't know this was historical fiction until the end. I think if I knew that the ending was inevitable I might have looked at the main character's actions differently. Still, it is difficult to enjoy a book with so much suffering with no real purpose realized.
Synopses & Reviews
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, where she encounters a freedom unknown to virtuous young women. But a dangerous misstep sends her fleeing to Monmouth and the refuge of the middle-class household of Mrs. Jones, to become the seamstress her mother always expected her to be and to live the ordinary life of an ordinary girl. Although Mary becomes a close confidante of Mrs. Jones, her desire for a better life leads her back to prostitution. She 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. In the end, it is clothes, their splendor and their deception, that lead Mary to disaster.
Emma Donoghue's daring, sensually charged prose casts a new sheen on the squalor and glamour of eighteenth-century England. Accurate, masterfully written, and infused with themes that still bedevil us today, Slammerkin is historical fiction for all readers.
"This book rocks, from the title on." USA Today
"This boldly imagined historical fiction...represents a quantum leap forward....Donoghue has triumphantly reimagined the life of a real historical figure of whom nothing is known beyond [a] few facts....Irresistible, and deeply satisfying. Donoghue has surpassed herself." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Donoghue shows her mastery of eighteenth-century England and epic storytelling....[A] serious but suspenseful and even entertaining novel....What is most amazing is Donoghue's capacity for tackling weighty issues (prostitution, crime, and slavery) while avoiding didacticism." Booklist
Inspired by the story of a teenage girl who murdered her mistress in 1763 because she "longed for fine clothes, " "Slammerkin" is the bestselling classic story of a lower-class Roxana, a female Tom Jones.
Born to rough cloth in Hogarth's London, but longing for silk, Mary Saunders's eye for a shiny red ribbon leads her to prostitution at a young age. A dangerous misstep sends her fleeing to Monmouth, and the position of household seamstress, the ordinary life of an ordinary girl with no expectations. But Mary has known freedom, and having never known love, it is freedom that motivates her. Mary asks herself if the prostitute who hires out her body is more or less free than the "honest woman" locked into marriage, or the servant who runs a household not her own? And is either as free as a man? Ultimately, Mary remains true only to the three rules she learned on the streets: Never give up your liberty. Clothes make the woman. Clothes are the greatest lie ever told.
From Library Journal
"Slammerkin," an 18th-century term meaning a loose gown or loose woman, is a fitting title for Irish writer Donoghue's (Hood) third novel. Mary Saunders's mother scratches out a meager living as a seamstress in 1760s London, but Mary longs for a more luxurious life with fine ribbons and clothes. At 13, she sneers at her mother's suggestion that she take up the needle, then makes a fateful mistake that leads her into prostitution. On the street, the young woman indulges her fine tastes and lives an independent life. When illness forces her to seek help, she vows to reform her lifestyle. Mary flees to a tiny hamlet where she finds work as a maid and seamstress. In her new life, she discovers the comforts of a home and family. But she questions whether "honest" women are any freer than prostitutes and is unable to forget her former life and her need for autonomy a need that leads to violence. This eloquent and engrossing novel, rich in historical detail and based on an actual murder, raises numerous issues about a woman's station in society during this period. An ideal choice for book groups; recommended for all public and academic libraries.