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My Notorious Life: A Novel Hardcover – September 10, 2013
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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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
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
Top customer reviews
There is an edgy quality to Kate Manning’s novel, “My Notorious Life,” that urges the reader to read on through the lengthy novel. Found within the bounteous words are delightful quips and folksy dialogue that are mixed with jolting physiology and human misery to produce a memorable story.
It’s the story of the maturation of Axie Muldoon, a poverty-beset daughter of New York City’s Irish immigrant population. Her spunk takes her from a childhood of grinding tragedy to a wealthy Fifth Avenue lifestyle with shady underpinnings. The author based her story on the notorious life of Ann Lohman, a.k.a.“Madame Restell,” an infamous nineteenth-century midwife. Manning explains that the story was originally about a child of the streets that she then enhanced with Lohman’s experiences.
Manning has a wonderful knack of displaying both the strengths and weaknesses of her characters. Axie, while displaying spunk and feistiness, is beset with the inability to keep herself out of trouble because of her tender heart. Throughout her life there seems to be a desperate attempt to somehow either bring her estranged family together or to find substitutes that satisfy her urge for closeness. For the most part that fails but Axie takes what she gets with resolve and firmness, always shouldering on, her care for women and their maladies lighting her path. Her sister, Dutch, when they finally meet again, upsets Axie with her haughty demeanor, seemingly uncaring attitude, and weak resolve. There is no joyful reunion.
Charlie, a headstrong boy whom Axie met during orphan train days, is exasperating and at times infuriating but who sometimes exhibits endearing qualities that the author deftly inserts into the narration. He seems to appear at the times he is most needed to keep Axie under control. The question that the author leaves with the reader is does he, as her husband, contribute to her troubles or is he her messiah?
The story begins with a body in a bathtub, a circumstance that I forgot about as the story droned on. The seemingly unrelated event gets blended into the story and becomes an integral part of where the author leads the reader. I say “droned” fondly, because that, too, is a part of what Manning weaves into her tale.
I find “My Notorious Life” to be enlightening and very informational. The life of a midwife during early times of uncertain medical practices has been thoroughly researched and vividly recreated by the author. The physical activity of midwifery is maligned by political and community abhorrence of the practice. And yet there is an almost spiritual connection between the practitioner and her patients, despite the naysayers, that Kate Manning uncovers in this remarkable novel.
Schuyler T Wallace
Author of TIN LIZARD TALES
I loved the narrator with her hysterically funny musings on her world. We see her grow up from age 10 just after the civil war until the dawn of the 20th century. She may not be book smart but has that wisdom and smarts that some children have and it's a great narration. " A Tree Grows In Brooklyn " meets "My Notorius Life." 5 BIG STARS !
Of course, the "female" medical care Axie gave her clientele was invariably sad, often horrifying in its factual scope, and even more horrifying in its explication of the seemingly unknowing and uncaring attitude the majority of men had about women in general and even their wives, in particular. In this knowledge, Axie was truly almost a "guardian angel" for these women who came to her in such desperate circumstances. It wasn't just what she did for them, it was how and why she ministered to them and the deep empathy she displayed toward them each. Yes, what she did could be and surely was a "sin", yet what brought them to the point of coming to her for help was an even greater sin. In many cases, the very men who swore to "cherish" them hadn't a clue about what they were really doing to their wives, sweethearts, or mistresses and a great many didn't care as long as it didn't inconvenience them.
I found myself dreading what might come next and was sad over her lack of trust in Charles. Even though they obviously loved one another, there was always that niggling doubt in her about his faithfulness. Still, he worked hard to keep their life together and flowing smoothly. Interestingly, I did believe he truly loved her and needed her as much as she needed him. It was lovely when she finally realized that as she met him at the train station along with their daughter, her brother (at long last), and Greta and It was a gift for both of them.
The happy ending was sweet to know, making me glad that at last they could enjoy their lives in peace. I felt they deserved that.
I think the saddest part about having read this book is the knowledge that, in reality, times haven't changed all that much. Roe vs Wade is coming before the Supreme Court AGAIN!! Women are still being punished for having the bad judgement to get pregnant, the legislators are still hellbent on making laws to keep women subject to their rules, and too many men can't figure out why women want to be equal.
Most recent customer reviews
Based on a real person and real events fictionalzed to make a good read