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My Notorious Life: A Novel Hardcover – September 10, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (September 10, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451698062
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451698060
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (335 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

The Big Fall Books Preview 2013: A historical novel of Dickensian sprawl, My Notorious Life is loosely based on the experiences of an infamous midwife in late 19th century New York. While she’s eventually dubbed Madame X by a rabid press. our heroine’s strength is that for all her success at self transformation, she remains forever the orphaned guttersnipe Axie Muldoon--a pioneer for women’s rights before anyone much knew that such rights could exist. But this novel is never pedantic or preachy, just compelling, assured and irresistible. --Sara Nelson

From Booklist

These fictionalized pages from the diary of the infamous Madame X, a self-proclaimed “expert in the subterranean sanguinary aspects of feminine existence,” tell a compelling and tragic (in its way) success story. Manning (White Girl, 2002) convincingly presents willful nineteenth-century child Axie Muldoon, based on an actual person, who was born of piss-poor Irish immigrants but was as prideful as the queen herself. And it’s a good thing too, or else Axie—later to become Mrs. Anne Jones then Madame DeBeausacq then Madame X—might have died of starvation or hypothermia on the streets of an indifferent New York City. Or worse, she might have died in childbirth like her mother. But witnessing her mother’s unnecessary death inflamed a coal in Axie’s heart that burned for every woman she encountered who faced uniquely feminine perils. Manning’s fascinating dramatization of the hazards of her protagonist’s pillar-to-post childhood and slave-labor apprenticeship, followed by her creation of Madame X’s above-and-around-the-law career vividly and movingly portray an unsympathetic world for women. --Donna Chavez

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Customer Reviews

This is a well written, well researched historical novel.
Cycling Chef
She has an amazing capacity (thanks to the talented author) to tell her story vividly and with a surprising and delightful sense of humor.
C. O'leary
This book is a page turner -- the author keeps the story moving.
Lovely Linda

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By cappuccino lover on December 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
As a real life midwife who worked in New York City hospitals for more than two
decades and delivered more than a thousand babies, I loved Kate Manning's "My Notorious Life."
This well-researched beautiful historical novel traces the life of Axie, an impoverished Irish girl from the slums of New York City. Sent out west with her siblings on an "orphan train," she is too rebellious to be adopted either by a childless couple or farm families seeking extra hands. How she becomes a midwife -- and the complexities of that profession, meaning weighing the patients'
needs against the "morality," convention and law of the time -- is the heart of the story.
The issues Axie must face and the way she is hounded by the self-appointed guardians of so-called decency are as timely today as they were more than a century ago. Vivid scenes of childbirth and abortion are accurately described.

Highly recommended to those who enjoy historical fiction or have an interest in women's issues or New York City in the second half of the 19th century.
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Format: Hardcover
I took a walk in the park and there did meet a friend I think of as the sister I never had. She was walking with a friend, Kate Manning. Writer, meet writer. With a difference: Kate's book was about to be published.

Would I read it?

If only as a favor to the sister I never had, of course.

"My Notorious Life: A Novel" arrived. It was everything I do not want. 434 pages. Set in the 19th century. Told in the first person, in 19th century speech. Based, in part, on the life of Ann Trow Lohman (1811-79) also known as Madame Restell, who practiced midwifery in New York for almost forty years.

In sum: a book not likely to hook me, a reader who likes short books about people I might know or want to. But the friend of a friend is my potential friend --- or, at least, someone I can't shun. I started to read:

"It was me who found her. April 1, 1880. The date is engraved on my story same as it is on the headstone, so cold and solid there under the pines. What happened that morning hurts me to this day, enrages me still, though many years have passed.

"The time was just before dawn. She was there in the tub. It had claw feet, gold faucets. Marble was everywhere in that room, so magnificent. A French carpet. A pair of velvet settees, a dressing table, candelabra, powders and pomades, all deluxe. I knew something was wrong right away. When I knocked I knew. There was not no noise of bathing, just that slow drip. That plink of water landing on water, so dreadful. I went in and there she was. A scarf of red across her shoulders, down her chest. The water was red and cold with all her life leaked out. A bloodbath. My hands were trembling. Terrible sounds strangled in my throat, quiet so as not to wake the house.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Amelia68 on June 7, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Every once in a while a book comes along which envelops you in a time capsule and carries you off in space and time for a memorable trip back in history. Kate Manning's My Notorious Life was such a story. After experiencing 19th century New York through the eyes of Manning's plucky and outspoken heroine Axie (Ann) Muldoon I have not only learned a great deal about a chapter in America's history I knew little about, but also appreciate the changes in society which have given women of our time so much more control over our own fates.

Born as the eldest daughter of poor Irish immigrants in New York, Axie Muldoon has had to learn to survive at an early age. With her father dead and her mother seriously injured in a work accident, Axie and her two younger siblings are found wandering the streets in search of food and fall into the hands of Reverend Charles Brace of the Children's Aid Society. Whilst he initially promises salvation from starvation, Axie will later come to see the encounter as a black mark in her personal history when both her sister Dutch and her brother Joe are given up for adoption to farming families in Illinois. Rebelling against a similar fate, Axie finds herself back in New York, living a life of poverty in the household of her mother's new husband's family. After the death of her mother due to childbed fever she is taken in as servant to a local doctor and his wife Mrs Evans, who acts as a local midwife and seller of female remedies.

Over the years of service in the Evans' household, Axie learns some valuable skills from Mrs Evans, which will later set her career as midwife and herbalist - as well as making her one of the most notorious women in New York, the mysterious midwife and accused abortionist Madame X.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Chicago Mama on January 6, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Sorry for the screaming, but this book deserves it. I don't understand why everyone isn't talking about this book, but I guess it just came out in September. Do yourself a favor, and go get it now. Haven't loved a book this much since "The Help," and I loved this one ten times more!!!

Yes, I know the title is terrible. I don't know what the publisher was thinking. Any other title would have been better: "The Diary of Mrs. X," "The True Adventures of Axie Muldoon," "Mrs. Jones Female Lunar Powder," "The Vilification of Madame Debeausacq"... the list goes on and on. The title makes this book seem like something it's not.

Let me tell you what it is: An amazingly rich and detailed look at mid-19th Century NYC from the point of view of one of the city's many immigrant orphans. She's put on the notorious "orphan train" to the Midwest, comes back, and ends up apprenticed to a midwife. As if all that wasn't interesting enough, this is the time in history when male doctors suddenly decided that midwifery was evil, and women had no business caring for other women. The tension between the newly emerging medical community and the thousand-year-old practice of midwifery is fantastic, eye-opening, and will stay with you. It begins with a splash and a mystery, and ends in a deeply satisfying way. Great, great book. Loved every single page.

On top of that, the book is so, so, so well written. The main character Axie Muldoon becomes your best friend, and when the book is over, you will find yourself evicted from the deliciously descriptive world Manning has created, and bereft. Cannot wait to see what Manning does next!
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