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The Nature of Monsters Hardcover – May 7, 2007

3.8 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. British author Clark's second novel, a moving historical set in early 18th-century London, surpasses her acclaimed debut, The Great Stink (2005). When teenager Eliza Tally gets pregnant, her mother sells her into servitude to an apothecary, Grayson Black. Eliza struggles to survive in a bizarre household, unaware that her new master is interested in the effects of various emotions on her unborn child. Isolated save for a kindly, slow-witted fellow servant, Mary, Eliza develops an unlikely relationship with a French bookseller, Mr. Honfleur, who supplies Black with the scientific treatises he uses to inform his sadistic researches. Eliza hopes Honfleur will provide her with the means for escape. Unlike The Great Stink, this suspenseful tale contains no whodunit element, but as in her previous book, Clark's empathetic portrait of the powerless and the victimized will remind many readers of Dickens. Author tour. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Clark is a first-rate storyteller. The setting is 18th-century London, a dark and unwelcoming city of massive size. Eliza Tally, pregnant and unmarried, has been sent there by her mother to begin service as a maid for apothecary Grayson Black. His shop is managed by Mrs. Black, who holds an unyielding grip over all the affairs of the elusive man. Upon her arrival, Eliza meets Mary, the other servant, whom she finds annoying and bothersome at first. Eliza's new home sits in the shadow of the impressive landmark of St. Paul's Cathedral, and the young woman becomes readers' eyes and ears as she vividly conveys the sights and sounds of the city's bustling life. She is disturbed by the changes in her body as the baby within her grows. At the same time, she discovers that all is not right with the mysterious apothecary and his ever-vigilant wife. His interests in her and her condition make her increasingly uncomfortable as she perceives that she is somehow an unwitting party to his secrets, and she and Mary come to rely on one another for warmth and companionship. Ultimately, Eliza learns that monsters can take many forms, and that human behavior is oftentimes most fearsome. The novel's well-described setting and its well-realized themes of unplanned pregnancy and exploited female labor will engage teen readers.–Catherine Gilbride, Farifax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 382 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (May 7, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151012067
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151012060
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,128,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 9, 2007
Format: 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?
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Format: 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.
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Format: 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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My first Clare Clark read was her 2012 Beautiful Lies, a story set in Victorian England around the time of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. I enjoyed her writing style and found that book to be an interesting, intelligent read with descriptive powers to immerse me in that time period.

This book is from 2007 and is another great immersion into a time and setting. In this case it's early 1700s England, with all the horrors of its filth, stench, poverty, extreme class divides, ignorance, and superstition.

16-year-old lower-class provincial Eliza Tally is seduced by a young man of a higher social rank. She becomes pregnant and his family sees to her removal to London to work at the house of Grayson Black, an apothecary, and his wife. Also in the household we meet a mentally-challenged and physically-deformed maid named Mary and a lecherous, ambitious apothecary assistant named Edgar.

The apothecary Black has a large port-wine stain birthmark which is attributed to his pregnant mother's being caught in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Now, as an adult, Black is obsessed with proving the theory of "maternal impression", the idea that the baby's appearance can be influenced by the mother's experiences and impressions while gestating. He even, in his ambitions to be recognized by the Royal Society, hopes to be able to create a monster in its mother's womb.

To that end Black experiments with Eliza during her pregnancy. Mary also is the victim of Black's obsessive and evil manipulations and experiments.
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