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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You are the agent of the Devil himself."
The year is 1718. Blinded by the excessive passion of first love, Eliza Tally finds herself pregnant at sixteen, her titled young seducer willing to pay to have the fallen girl placed in service to an apothecary in London. A calculating mother cosigns the bargain and Eliza is whisked to the domicile of her employer, Mr. Black, who hides his face under a black veil and...
Published on May 9, 2007 by Luan Gaines

versus
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I hate to judge my content alone but this book disturbed me so much I can't say I enjoyed it at all
This book is without a doubt one of the most disturbing and horrifying things I have ever read. I don't mean in style or plot, but in subject matter and character. If you can't stand reading about evil beyond belief and the conceit of a man that believes himself allowed to do anything to further his glory, then stay away from this book. It gave me nightmares for weeks and...
Published on June 18, 2008 by Lilly Flora


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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You are the agent of the Devil himself.", May 9, 2007
This review is from: The Nature of Monsters (Hardcover)
The year is 1718. Blinded by the excessive passion of first love, Eliza Tally finds herself pregnant at sixteen, her titled young seducer willing to pay to have the fallen girl placed in service to an apothecary in London. A calculating mother cosigns the bargain and Eliza is whisked to the domicile of her employer, Mr. Black, who hides his face under a black veil and performs questionable research to gain the attention of the London Royal Society. This is a desolate place, consisting of Grayson Black's office, the apothecary shop and the living quarters, ruthlessly attended by the severe Mrs. Black and an apothecary's assistant, Edgar Pettigrew. The only other resident is the mentally and physically defective servant, Mary. The nature of Black's experiments cloaked in secrecy, an oppressive gloom pervades every day of Eliza's service, the girl increasingly burdened by the hopelessness of her predicament.

For all his detachment, like some otherworldly Jekyll and Hyde, Black's intentions are unquestionably evil. The house is dark, shadowed, Eliza performing her chores as the baby grows within her, her fears exacerbated in this monstrous place, her only companion the dim-witted, disfigured Mary. Yet Mary is strangely kind, with her clumsy attempts to communicate. There is something unhealthy in this home, the sense of menace growing with the child in her belly. Trapped in a web of confusion, Eliza casts about for a means of escape, her natural instinct to survive her circumstances. As her original antipathy toward Mary morphs slowly into a grudging affection, Eliza realizes that there are more dangers afoot in Black's household, her innate intelligence whispering in her ear, "run".

What are Mr. Black's intentions? What will happen when her baby is born? And how can Eliza escape the grasping aggression of Edgar Pettigrew?

Murky and atmospheric, Clark's London is dingy, dirty and filled with the contradictions of class and circumstance, the future as obscure as the so-called scientific treatise Black pens to rationalize his experiments. There is little cause for hope in Eliza's dank corner of London, save the notice of a French bookseller who offers the promise of a better future. Clark's powerful novel reeks with indefinable menace, the two women victims of conditions they struggle to define, imagination fueled by fear. Black personifies the ultimate victimizer, the unfettered ego of a man fascinated by the very qualities of the women who so baffle him, ascribing his own twisted lusts to what he fails to comprehend, but manipulates for profit. Monsters come in many guises. To scientific pretenders like Black, the marrying of those of low class to his research may bear the promise of a reputation before others of his ilk. To those who endure such overweening pride and unconscionable cruelty, he is the monster. In this acute study of human nature, pride and greed, Clark once again mines the underbelly of London for her treasure: innocence, men and monsters. Luan Gaines/2007.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monsters come in many forms .., June 20, 2007
This review is from: The Nature of Monsters (Hardcover)
Ms Clark did such a great job of depicting monsters and monstrous behaviour in this novel that it took me while to find redeeming qualities in any character. Except, of course, for Mary.

Set in early 18th century London, this novel focusses on aspects of life that are really confronting and uncomfortable. In many ways, this is an Hogarthian London - perhaps just around the corner from Gin Lane. It won't appeal to everyone but it should appeal to those who enjoyed Ms Clark's first novel 'The Great Stink'.

We meet both the best and worst of humanity in these pages but underpinning it all is the depiction of London herself.

Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to make a monster, October 5, 2008
This review is from: The Nature of Monsters (Paperback)
Clare Clark has to be one the bravest contemporary fiction writers around. Two years ago, she debuted with "The Great Stink" and if anyone thinks that was unsavory enough, Clark returns with "The Nature of Monsters," a gothic horror that will test your tolerance of the macabre with some of the coarsest, meanest, creepiest, most menacing people you can find in London of 1718.

This isn't the mannered tea-party London of Pygmalion's Eliza Doolittle. This is the filthy, horrid, revolting London of Eliza Tally. Jilted by a wealthy lover her money-hungry mother had baited, the impoverished and pregnant Eliza is sold to an apothecary, Grayson Black. She expects that Black will terminate the pregnancy in exchange for serving as maid in his household. But Black has other plans--he's a mad scientist whose use for Eliza goes beyond having his boots polished and his meals served.

Black is consumed by a treatise on "maternal impression," theorizing that a pregnant woman's experiences, when taken to extremes while with child, will determine the physiognomy of the infant. A mother who is terrorized will likely produce a deformed child. One who takes a fancy to animals will produce a freak of nature, half human, half beast. Black believes that the hideous port-wine birthmark that disfigured his face was the direct cause of his mother's terror during the Great London Fire of 1666.

The Black household is straight out of a horror flick. Mrs. Black is mean-spirited and just a tad less strange than her husband. Mary, the other maid, is mentally-challenged, with loathsome features and child-like behaviors. The demented and evil Black is a towering figure in black with a veiled hat that covers his marked face, terrorizing Eliza, Mary and tradespeople. The Royal Society does not take his experiments and theories seriously, and as he becomes more obsessed with his writings and addicted to opium, he becomes insanely dangerous, torturing Eliza, hoping she would produce a monster. By the time Eliza discovers the truth behind Black's secret experiments, it might be too late for her to save herself and Mary.

The plot may be fantastic but it's written tightly with intense yet eloquent prose. The story moves quickly, and Clark does not let up on the suspense. It's a ghastly and twisted tale and one almost needs a breath of fresh, cleansing air after having spent many hours on its sinister plot. As gothic horror, "The Nature of Monsters" is a well-written sensational, rich with the dark and creepy elements of the genre, and thankfully, never becomes laughable or absurd.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I hate to judge my content alone but this book disturbed me so much I can't say I enjoyed it at all, June 18, 2008
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This review is from: The Nature of Monsters (Paperback)
This book is without a doubt one of the most disturbing and horrifying things I have ever read. I don't mean in style or plot, but in subject matter and character. If you can't stand reading about evil beyond belief and the conceit of a man that believes himself allowed to do anything to further his glory, then stay away from this book. It gave me nightmares for weeks and I needed a month long break in the middle to allow me to finish it.

This is the story of Eliza, who is being paid by the wealthy parents of her unborn child's father to disappear to London to work as maid in an apothecary's household. But Eliza has no idea of the true nature of the mysteriously veiled Dr. Black's work, or the effect he is hoping it will have on her unborn child. But when the Eliza experiment fails and the master goes after Mary, the half witted maidservant next, Eliza knows they must escape and save the child now growing in Mary's belly.

The writing in this book is really very good and Eliza is a very well written character but (though I hate to judge a book on content alone) there are parts of this novel I wish I could erase from my mind. It's not horror novel horrifying, but more what man is capable of horrifying. In spite of the ending, reading this book was a trial for me and I can't say I recommend it (unless you are much less prone to fictional tragedy than me.)

Two stars
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So dark and gritty that it's unenjoyable, but features realistic, meaningful character growth. Moderately recommended, June 30, 2008
By 
Juushika (Oregon, United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Nature of Monsters (Paperback)
In 1718 England, sixteen-year-old Eliza is recently married, but when she conceives her husband renounces her. She is sent to London to work for an apothecary, Mr. Black, that she believes will rid her of her burden--but Black has other plans. He is writing a treatise on the effect of female imagination on unborn children, and he intends pregnant Eliza to be his first case study. Taking place deep within the dark and dirty underbelly of 18th Century London, The Nature of Monsters is almost so gritty that it's unpleasant to read, and an excess of narration makes some of the plot developments predictable, but Eliza's slow character development are both skillful and realistic. While not particularly memorable, this is a well written, non-romanticized view of historical London. I moderately recommend it.

Midway through The Nature on Monsters, piled beneath misogyny and ill-conceived science, London's poverty and its stinking streets, and bitter characters who refuse to extend a helping hand to anyone, I stopped to wonder: just why was I continuing to read a book that was so gritty and realistic that it failed to be enjoyable? In its premise, the book appears to offer a dark insight into the worst of human nature--the sort of story which is intriguing primarily because it is so discomforting--but the story itself lacks intrigue. Eliza discovers things as she goes along, but her narration is intersperced with pages from Black's writing which reveal plot points to the reader long before Eliza realizes them, removing any sense of mystery. And there is nothing wickedly romantic about the darkness within the book. Historical, dry, and so deep within the underbelly of London that there is almost no beauty left, The Nature of Monsters quickly becomes unpleasant to read and maintains this level of disgust and dirt for the vast majority of the book.

I continued reading because I hate to leave a book unfinished, and in time the book redeems itself. Slowly, realistically, Eliza evolves to become a character that the reader likes and admires--and respects even because of the setting from which she rises. Such realistic character development is rare and it shows great skill. London herself is never quite redeemed in the same way (indeed, the only solution to its ills seems to be to escape them), but the dark setting nevertheless has a purpose: to act as background and foil for a very real character. Other characters are not quite so realistic, there are some loose ends remaining at the conclusion, but Clark's writing is well-researched and moves at a smooth, even pace.

In short, there is enough meaning in Eliza's character growth to make the book worthwhile if the reader has the patience (and stomach) for the dark and dirty content which proceeds it. The Nature of Monsters is not particularly memorable, and it pales in comparison to other examples of historical fiction that focuses on the underbelly of London (such as the films From Hell and The Libertine), but it is aptly written, well researched, and a strong example of meaningful and realistic character growth in the protagonist. I moderately recommend it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good summer novel wrapped in dark packaging, July 22, 2007
This review is from: The Nature of Monsters (Hardcover)
I got pulled into this book in part by reading reviews about Clark's skill at creating atmosphere fully invoking the period London of Christopher Wren - a stew of emerging ideas, changing commerce, high art, low violence, and general conditions of squallor. It sounded like a good read, a novel of ideas and people coming into collision in the early explorations of English medical thought.

It is a good read, but...

The Nature of Monsters is essentially a straightforward, plot-driven historical novel wrapped in the macabre nuances of early English medical practices (the key word being "practice"), where the lines between quackery and science often overlapped to the point of indistinction. Drop into that mix a young, single, smart, pregnant country girl whose very idea of London puts it on par with Sodom & Gomorrah, add a dash of crackpot apothecary, lace with opium, stir in a halfwit housemaid and a sweet-talking French bookseller, and voila - you have a book that is about 1/2 gothic romance, 1/2 atmospheric detail.

In the end, I found the main character and her companion housemaid compelling, the apothecary a cardboard cut-out, and the various other characters falling along the spectrum in between. London stood out sharply, in all its mess, stench and glory.

While Clark is responsible and does not allow her characters easy outs (as in her deft handling of the relationship with the bookseller), at the same time this is essentially a good, plot-driven yarn. If you buy it as such and read it as such, you'll be quite pleased. Just don't assume that Clark is aiming for mind-stirring literary fiction. This is highly atmospheric entertainment, and as such, it hits its target.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars we are all monsters, September 5, 2009
By 
Raven (Pennsylvania USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Nature of Monsters (Paperback)
Make no mistake about it, The Nature of Monsters is a very dark story without a smidgen of joy or light. When I first picked up the book and read the first few chapters, I supposed that "the nature of monsters" referred to the protagonist's (Eliza Tally) employer and master, the apothecary Grayson Black, his pinched & bitter wife, and the apprentice Edgar. Which one of them, I wondered, was the monster, when of course they all are. But Clare Clark's study on the nature of monsters digs much more deeply. Is a monster the likes of Mary, the "halfwit" maidservant in the Black household, vile-looking, snotty, and generally unpleasant to the senses? Is it the monsters that Grayson Black believes can be formed in a pregnant woman's womb if she is imprinted with horrifying experiences? Or, perhaps, is it those whom seem kind and honorable, such as the Huegeunot bookseller that Eliza comes to know as she exchanges books between the seller and the apothecary?

The answer, of course, is all of the above and more. Thick with suspense and horrifying revelations, The Nature of Monsters takes place in early 18th century London, complete with its own squalor, cruelty and monstrosities -- overlooked by the magnificent dome of St. Paul's Cathedral rising from the ruins of the Great London Fire of 1666. The dome becomes a metaphor, a touchstone, for Eliza's wretched life with the Blacks, first as a beacon of beauty and hope, and then as a monster itself, indifferent to the suffering below its pious grandeur.

I loved this book :: I found it to be a compulsive read, one that I went through quickly. I wanted to know what would happen next, no matter how ghastly, to Eliza and Mary, and how the plot would turn when Eliza realizes that she must save Mary and herself from the master Black. Some reviewers found Eliza to be unlikeable as a character; I found her to be quite opposite. For me, Eliza was real, with misfortune that she brought upon herself, her own meanness towards Mary early in the book, to her personal growth that transcends her own ego.

But, be warned : this novel is dark and gothic, without being graphic ... and very much a homage to the Dickensian tradition.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent historical fiction--well written., August 23, 2007
By 
This review is from: The Nature of Monsters (Hardcover)
The novel, set in 18th-century London, follows the story of a young pregnant girl who is sold by her mother to work with an eccentric researcher. As Eliza finds out later, her master is not only a strange man -He's also a sadistic predator who will stop at nothing to test his scientific theories.

I don't normally read historicals, so I approached The Nature of Monsters with a skeptical eye. By the end of Chapter 1, however, I had forgotten the setting of the book and was completely enraptured by the story.

Eliza, the main character, is the perfect voice for the book. Born in poverty and in a rural setting, she is marveled by the things she sees in the big city, and the author makes sure we get to experience those sensations along with Eliza.

The book is raw at times and some sections are so vivid with violence and rage that I was tempted to skip them just to avoid the mental images. On the other hand, we are also shown kindness and beauty and softness, and it's in the contrasts like this that the book becomes so memorable.

My strongest memory, however, is of the city itself. Maybe because I was in London recently or maybe because the author is just brilliant, but it's the memory of the dark, damp, menacing streets that stayed with me long after I finished reading the book.

Armchair Interviews says: If you love historical fiction, or if you just love extraordinary writing, give this book a chance.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Musty and Stinky, June 13, 2007
This review is from: The Nature of Monsters (Hardcover)
This was a fabulous book. So visual. I couldn't put it down. I fell in love with dear Mary...I know someone like Mary...and all the characteristics were correct. Clare Clark does look at the human condition one hang nail at a time. Full of humanity and humor.
Learned a lot about London, medicine of the time, poverty, insanity, lies, and happiness. Everything we see everyday only in a modern way.
Clare Clark takes us back in time to ourselves.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a missed opportunity, September 11, 2007
This review is from: The Nature of Monsters (Hardcover)
The last line of the BOOKLIST review compelled me to pick this one up: "Readers who are not put off by the graphically documented grotesqueries and perversions will be drawn into the spellbinding gothic netherworld Clark spins." I don't know what book that reviewer read, but it surely wasn't THE NATURE OF MONSTERS, which, disappointingly, is neither graphic nor grotesque, neither spellbinding nor netherworldly.

Clark's descriptions lack vividness. We're supposed to be at the bottom of the heap of London society and at the fringes of perverted science, rife with opportunities for evocative writing, but Clark seldom offers even the faintest sparks to our imaginations. For example, the apothecary's shop should be a writer's dream; one can only imagine the multicolored vials, the bottles filled with liquids and powders, the gilt books teeming with strange etchings and drawings. Yet Clark gives us only a cursory glimpse of the shop, leaving us begging for more (though we eventually learn not to beg: Clark's comparison of flesh to doughy bread was interesting the first time, boring the second, and annoying the third).

The characters, though at times affecting, are not particularly imaginative either. The strong-willed young woman who takes charge of her life despite tough circumstances? The physically deformed and mentally handicapped girl who has an endearing heart of gold beneath it all? The shrewish older woman who scolds the girls, beats them, locks them up? The mysterious, drug-addicted pseudo-scientist who shrouds himself in darkness? They're all here -- and they're little more than types.

The world of this book is black and white, rather than full color. The book feels like nothing so much as a dressed-up history paper, which perhaps is appropriate, because the flap copy informs us that Clark earned a double first in history at Cambridge.
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The Nature of Monsters
The Nature of Monsters by Clare Clark (Paperback - May 12, 2008)
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