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Martha Peake: A Novel of the Revolution Paperback – May 14, 2002
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Harry, "to whom Nature in her folly gave the soul of a smuggler, and the tongue of a poet," was a Cornish smuggler, horrifically mutilated in a fire that killed his wife and dispersed his children. Only Martha stood by him. As the story unfolds, she follows her father to London, where the self-anointed, poetry-spouting "Cripplegate Monster" displays his hideously deformed body in the taverns and watering holes of London's underworld. Soon Harry comes to the sinister attentions of Lord Drogo, who "wanted him for his Museum of Anatomy." As father and daughter are drawn into this gentleman scientist's world, Harry turns to drink, catastrophically abusing Martha and sending her fleeing to America, where she becomes embroiled in the struggle for independence from England. At this point, the story may seem to have wandered far afield. But as Martha Peake reaches its climax, Ambrose realizes that the fate of both parent and child is much closer to home than he could ever have imagined.
Practicing the black art of storytelling to near-perfection, Patrick McGrath has produced a wonderful tale of "sacrifice and abomination and heroism and resolve and victory." The book's darkness and intermittent grotesquerie will cement his New Gothic reputation. Still, Martha Peake belongs more arguably in the company of Charles Dickens, whose literary ghost haunts these pages no less powerfully than those of the tragic father-and-daughter team. --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Now, to "Martha Peake". McGrath told us that this was his first attempt at an "historical" novel. Being a Civil War buff myself, I found it refreshing that he set it during the American Revolution, a period about which I read shockingly little. The first half of the novel takes place in England and McGrath told us that in order to capture the feeling of London's public houses and pubs, as well as the characters who inhabited them, he'd spent a great deal of time studying the novels of Charles Dickens and examining prints and artworks depicting the period. His efforts were well-rewarded in scenes set in crowded pubs filled with people from all walks of life - from footpads to the aristocratic and sinister Lord Drogo. You can smell the smoke from their pipes, taste the stale beer and ale and hear the customers' raucous laughter and the strident tones of the barmaids heaving libatious mugs onto long, wooden tables while getting pinched in the rear by way of reward.
Harry Peake, Martha's father and the focal point of the first half of the book, is so clear a character as to warrant his own novel. One could well compare him in depth to the evil butler, Fledge, of McGrath's "The Grotesque" (later made into the movie "Grave Indiscretion" starring Sting and Alan Bates).Read more ›
Martha Peake is an epic novel about a young English woman who escapes the clutches of her drunken father and escapes to America ... just when the American revolution was about to start. The novel reads more like historical fiction than a gothic novel. While there are dark, sinister elements to the story I was never really frightened or caught off-guard. Perhaps it is because McGrath spends so much time telling us about the proud and fearless freedom fighters that the gothic elements of the story are swept aside.
Oh, there are positive elements to Martha Peake. Firstly, the characterization of our heroine is really well done. And of course Patrick McGrath can churn out English prose better than most anyone else. So Martha Peake is not an unpleasent read, just vaguely disappointing - especially for those who know McGrath has done much better.
Bottom line: opportunity missed, although McGrath fans will probably want to add it to their collection.
First, although promising to be about the American Revolution, the novel is about half way over before the action ever gets to Massachussets Bay. The first half of the novel has nothing at all to do with the battle for American independence, and in fact I think a good editor could've pared down the opening 140 pages to about 90. The story of Harry's tragic fall, the fire that destroyed his spine and devastated his family, etc. were very well told and moving. But his constant battles with gin got a bit tiring until his daughter Martha sought refuge in gloomy Drogo Hall, rising from grassy Lambeth Marsh within sight of the distant lights and smoke of London, where the story picked up steam again.
The novel is narrated by Ambrose Tree, a young man called to Drogo Hall by his sick uncle William, from whom he hopes to inherit the manor. William tells an eager Ambrose the story of Harry and Martha Peake, and that story within a story is relayed to us in the course of the novel. As usual, McGrath is not content to simply use a third person narrator to tell his tale, and as usual his narrative tricks take their toll on the reader and present some problems.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This was a very sad story about an American Revolutionary War martyrPublished 14 months ago by Dp Fillinger
what a really awful terrible waste of time. The book is as dense and tough to read as something written 100+ years ago, but without any of the insight into humanity that older... Read morePublished 15 months ago by ec05
English author Patrick McGrath has been hailed as the master of the neo-gothic, but he prefers to describe himself as the creator of "stories of love and madness". Read morePublished 20 months ago by Linda Pagliuco
I did enjoy this book, but found it very complicated with too many subplots - thouigh an interesting concept of a story within a story within a story... Read morePublished 22 months ago by Barbara McKerracher
I have read all of Patrick McGrath's books and this was by far one of his best! If you're looking for a lot of info on the Revolution, then this is not the book for you. Read morePublished on October 11, 2012 by googbooks
The unreliable narrator is pretty much standard in McGrath's novels, but he does it so well that it is a pleasure each and every time. Read morePublished on September 24, 2012 by J. Hundley
I listened to a nicely read version of this. McGrath is a superb writer, without question, and unlike so many popular scribes these days, can craft impressive sentences. Read morePublished on May 19, 2012 by T. Burrows
This was my first encounter with McGrath. I enjoy his modern take on the overwrought description, language and emotion of times gone by. Read morePublished on December 7, 2010 by Riverine