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The Drowning Room Paperback – March 1, 1997


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

From a sketchy but provocative set of facts, Pye has constructed a chilling, unforgettably haunting story set in Manhattan in the 1600s. The facts, which the author found in 17th-century New Amsterdam legal ledgers when researching his Maximum City: The Biography of New York, concern a woman named Gretje Reyniers: that she arrived from Amsterdam on a ship called the Soutberg; that she was married to a sailor named Anthony "the Turk" Janssen; that she publicly declared herself tired of being the nobility's whore; that on the waterfront she measured on a broomstick the genitalia of three sailors; that she owned various tracts of land and did some moneylending; that, five years after being banished from the settlement, she was again living there. The novel opens during a severe winter that has closed the harbor and made Gretje a widow?a tooth infection has led to the Turk's death. The frozen ground makes burial impossible, and so the Turk lies in a coffin in Gretje's backyard, amplifying her loneliness. When the elusive Pieter, an apparently orphaned adolescent, intrudes upon her grief, Gretje suspects him of being either an angel or a demon ("more tart than angel" she thinks). Through subtle proddings, Pieter prompts Gretje to revisit her life?a grim and nearly loveless catalogue of legal wrangles, prostitution, abandoned infants and flight from the plague. The sole bright spot is her strained, but lifelong, relationship with the Turk. In prose so terse it's almost rude, Pye endows his 17th century with a brutal physicality and casual violence. (The title refers to a method of execution the Turk particularly fears, in which the victim is put in a cell and water poured in.) The author's paramount accomplishment, though, is taking a woman whose character reflects this barbarity and making her life a fascinating tale of grim beauty.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

While researching his nonfiction study of New York City (Maximum City, Trafalgar, 1993), British journalist Pye found references to Gretje Reyniers, a 17th-century Dutchwoman. Using what little was known about her (mainly a list of petty offenses), Pye has conjured a strong, lusty, and independent heroine. During the frigid New Amsterdam winter of 1642, Gretje is mourning the death of her husband. One day a strange child moves into Gretje's house and asks to hear the story of her life. Gretje tells Pieter about her difficult childhood in Holland, her unhappy first marriage, and her life in the New World where, with only her determination to succeed, she became a property owner, a moneylender, and the town whore. Although the device of having the story told to a child is somewhat awkward, readers will appreciate Pye's mastery at evoking place and time and his talent for using details. For serious fiction collections.?Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (March 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140141499
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140141498
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #715,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

2.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 6, 1998
Format: Paperback
Michael Pye creates a vivid portrait of a real-life 17th century woman. His fictional depiction of the non-fictional Gretje Reyniers is mindful of Defoe's characterization of Moll Flanders in his novel of the same name. For this alone, The Drowning Room is worth reading. However, if you're not a fan of slow-paced novels, 17th century history, or you're more intrigued with plot development, dialogue and/or other elements of fiction, don't waste your time . . . you wouldn't make it past page 10.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 22, 1996
Format: Hardcover
An excellent adventure story with a wealth of small details that actually make the historical period come alive, like being transported through time. Literary and sophisticated, worth a reader's time
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By AJ Smith on August 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
The author has an interesting voice, and some of the scenes, like the drowning room, are quite striking. Mostly the book is sensory rather than descriptive in that the author creates an emotional state for the reader rather than conveys information. For example, I understood the interior world of the main character, but I had a hard time picturing her surroundings. It's also challenging because the "story" is not linear or very satisfying in the end. I imagine The Drowning Room would be better in one sitting, rather than over a few months like I read it. Overall, I was disappointed because I hoped to learn more about life in New Amsterdam, but I imagine this would be a refreshing read for the right reader.
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