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Martha Peake: A Novel of the Revolution (Vintage Contemporaries) [Kindle Edition]

Patrick Mcgrath
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Master storyteller Patrick McGrath--author of the critically acclaimed novel Asylum and a finalist for England's prestigious Whitbread Prize for fiction--once again spins a hypnotic tale of psychological suspense and haunting beauty. Set among the teeming streets and desolate wharves of Hogarth's London, then shifting to the powder-keg colony of Massachusetts Bay, Martha Peake envelops the reader in a world on the brink of revolution, and introduces us to a flame-haired heroine who will live in the imagination long after the last page is turned.

Settled with our narrator beside a crackling fire, we hear of the poet and smuggler Harry Peake--how Harry lost his wife, Grace, in a tragic fire that left him horribly disfigured; how he made a living displaying his deformed spine in the alehouses of eighteenth-century London; and how his only solace was his devoted daughter, Martha, who inherited all of his fire but none of his passion for cheap gin. As the drink eats away at Harry's soul, it opens ancient wounds; when he commits one final act of unspeakable brutality, Martha, fearing for her life, must flee for the American colonies. Once safely on America's shores, Martha immerses herself in the passions of smoldering rebellion. But even in this land of new beginnings, she is unable to escape the past. Caught up in a web of betrayals, she redeems herself with one final, unforgettable act of courage.

Superbly plotted and wholly absorbing, Martha Peake is an edge-of-your-seat shocker that is crafted with the psychological precision Patrick McGrath's fans have come to expect. A writer whose novels The New York Times Book Review has called both "mesmerizing" and "brilliant," McGrath applies his remarkable imaginative powers to a fresh and broad historical canvas. Martha Peake is the poignant, often disturbing tale of a child fighting free of a father's twisted love, and of the colonists' struggle to free themselves from a smothering homeland. It is Patrick McGrath's finest novel yet.


From the Hardcover edition.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"It is a black art, the writing of a history, is it not?" So begins Martha Peake, a gripping narrative that takes the reader back to London and America during the revolutionary epoch of the 1770s. Patrick McGrath's sixth work of fiction begins several decades later, when young Ambrose Tree is summoned to visit his dying Uncle William at Drogo Hall. Assuming that he is about to inherit his uncle's estate, he rushes across Lambeth Marsh to the great manor house. Instead, though, he's promptly drawn into his uncle's extraordinary story of Harry Peake and his headstrong young daughter, Martha.

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

From Publishers Weekly

Known as a spinner of elegant neo-gothic thrillersDthe sort full of psychological tension but narrow in scopeDMcGrath tackles a much broader canvas in his sweeping new novel about the American Revolution. At the heart of McGrath's tale are a fatherDHarry Peake, an energetic Cornwall man broken by calamityDand his daughter and helpmate, Martha. Like many of his countrymen, Harry smuggles to avoid the excise, but after a nearly bungled job, his spine is broken and he is transformed into a misshapen monster. He sets off for London with eight-year-old Martha, earning money at first by exhibiting his deformed spine and later by performing his own Ballad of Joseph Tresilian, an allegory about the king's tyranny over the colonists. Although Harry's reputation growsDenough to attract the attention of Lord Drogo, an anatomist interested in collecting rare bonesDhe succumbs to drink and far worse, endangering now teenaged Martha and forcing her to flee to her cousins in America. But it is 1774, and those cousins, living in a fishing community north of Boston, are committed patriots. Martha throws her lot in with the Americans, but her loyalty to her father threatens her and the other colonists and, finally, determines her destiny. All this is narrated half a century later by Ambrose Tree, nephew of Lord Drogo's assistant, Dr. William Tree. Like many of McGrath's earlier narrators, Ambrose is unreliable; he recounts, and embellishes, the tales his uncle William tells at night in drafty Drogo Hall. As Ambrose's questionable assumptions are proved true or false, what is betrayed is not the oh-so-familiar black heart of the narrator but the sweet heroism of the protagonists. McGrath (Asylum) takes a big risk, but the result is an invigorating take on the Revolution, just the tonic for even the most jaded reader during this election season. Agent, Amanda Urban at ICM.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1346 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (January 5, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004GTLFO6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #668,425 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars historical novel in a gothic wrapper... July 23, 2001
By lazza
Format:Hardcover
Patrick McGrath is known for writing dark, tightly-woven gothic novels which are either good (Asylum, Spider) or unforgettable (Dr Haggard's Disease). With Martha Peake the author has deviated from his successful formula and tries for something more ambitious. Did he succeed? Well...
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.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gothic master successfully turns to historical novel December 26, 2000
Format:Hardcover
I recently had the great privilege of hearing Mr. McGrath perform a reading from Chapters 5 & 6 of "Martha Peake". Wonderful! Why he doesn't do his own audio books - with his cultured yet mercurial British accent, clear tones, dramatic presentation and emotive voice - is beyond me. After the reading, he was most gracious, signing books and chatting with all of us individually in an unhurried manner that suggested he enjoyed every minute of the event.
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).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brooding, thoughtful but flawed tale April 23, 2001
Format:Hardcover
I like McGrath's gothic storytelling, and was looking forward to getting my hands on his first attempt at "historical fiction", as the novel is depicted on the jacket as a "novel of the revolution." Having just finished Martha Peake, I must say I was impressed with the ending and many early passages in London, but was frustrated at long passages of the novel.
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Revolution? January 27, 2013
By marys
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I read this because I was interested in a book assigned to my daughter (sophomore in H.S.). Her assiginment was to report on a historical fiction book. She chose this book because it purportedly had "romance" in it. I found it far removed from any historical content. In fact, the romance is actually an abusive father-daughter relationship. One half the book takes place in England, the other half in the U.S. The Revolutiion or any historical event is tangential at best and it veers so far from having historical content that it is almost laughable. I personally found the book wanting in theme, character, plot and historical background.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
This was a very sad story about an American Revolutionary War martyr
Published 1 day ago by Dp Fillinger
1.0 out of 5 stars what a really awful terrible waste of time
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 more
Published 1 month ago by ec05
5.0 out of 5 stars Frankenstein revisited
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 more
Published 5 months ago by Linda Pagliuco
3.0 out of 5 stars from a different perspective
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 more
Published 7 months ago by Barbara McKerracher
4.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling story
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 more
Published on October 11, 2012 by googbooks
4.0 out of 5 stars Reliably unreliable
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 more
Published on September 24, 2012 by J. Hundley
3.0 out of 5 stars McGrath takes on old London and the American Revolution
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 more
Published on May 19, 2012 by T. Burrows
2.0 out of 5 stars Major spoiler alert
This was my first encounter with McGrath. I enjoy his modern take on the overwrought description, language and emotion of times gone by. Read more
Published on December 7, 2010 by Riverine
5.0 out of 5 stars Part Poe, part Dickens, all McGrath
Having read and thoroughly enjoyed McGrath's Asylum, I thought I'd take a look at his foray into historical fiction. Read more
Published on April 12, 2010 by AgeeJim
5.0 out of 5 stars Stories within the Story
Unlike many of the other reviewers of this book, I was not a McGrath fan before I read Martha Peake, and I have not enjoyed any of his books to the same degree since. Read more
Published on August 5, 2009 by HyalineBlue
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