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Slammerkin Paperback – May 1, 2002

4.0 out of 5 stars 276 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Donoghue takes scraps of the intriguing true story of Mary Saunders, a servant girl who murdered her mistress in 1763, and fashions from them an intelligent and mesmerizing historical novel. Born to a mother who sews for pennies and a father who died in jail, 14-year-old Mary's hardened existence in London brings to mind the lives of Dickens's child characters. Mary has an eye for fine things and ambitions beyond her social station, and her desire for a shiny red ribbon leads her to sell the only thing she owns: her body. Turned out by her mother, Mary is taken in by a local prostitute, Doll Higgins; they live together in Rat's Castle in the seedy section of town. Doll teaches Mary the tricks of her trade and gives her all the gaudy dresses Mary once coveted. For a year, the term slammerkin meaning a loose gown or a loose woman becomes all too familiar to Mary, until she checks into a charity hospital and attempts to straighten out. Missing the "liberty" of her former life, she leaves the hospital only to encounter more trouble back on the streets. Fleeing to the country village of Monmouth, her parents' hometown, Mary finds Mrs. Jones, an old friend of her mother's, and obtains a maid's position in her household, but Mary can't shake her dark ambitions: she re-enters the flesh trade, bringing disaster upon herself. Readers may feel both sympathetic to and angry with Mary, who questions whether hers is the lot of all women, but whose anesthetized spirit leads to her rash action. Donoghue's characterizations are excellent, and her brutal imagery and attention to language capture the spirit of the time with vital precision. Agent, Caroline Davidson. (June)Forecast: The provocative jacket will catch readers' attention, but attentive handselling, perhaps helped by the author tour, will be required to distinguish this worthy historical novel from similar titles.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

"Slammerkin," an 18th-century term meaning a loose gown or loose woman, is a fitting title for Irish writer Donoghue's (Hood) third novel. Mary Saunders's mother scratches out a meager living as a seamstress in 1760s London, but Mary longs for a more luxurious life with fine ribbons and clothes. At 13, she sneers at her mother's suggestion that she take up the needle, then makes a fateful mistake that leads her into prostitution. On the street, the young woman indulges her fine tastes and lives an independent life. When illness forces her to seek help, she vows to reform her lifestyle. Mary flees to a tiny hamlet where she finds work as a maid and seamstress. In her new life, she discovers the comforts of a home and family. But she questions whether "honest" women are any freer than prostitutes and is unable to forget her former life and her need for autonomy a need that leads to violence. This eloquent and engrossing novel, rich in historical detail and based on an actual murder, raises numerous issues about a woman's station in society during this period. An ideal choice for book groups; recommended for all public and academic libraries. Karen T. Bilton, Cedar Mill Community Lib., Portland, OR
Copyright 2001 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: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (May 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156007479
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156007474
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (276 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #96,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Life was hard back in the era Ms. Donoghue is writing about, folks. In fact, it was more than hard -- it was a nightmare ninety-nine percent of the time, especially for women and the poor. If you're expecting a larkish or sexy romp through Jolly Olde England, look elsewhere. This book will slice you to the bone.
This book affected me so deeply that I finished it days ago, yet I am still haunted by it.
Ms. Donoghue has created a tale that is absolutely SOAKED in unflinching truth. Her historical detail is so fascinating and at times, properly horrifying, that you will be shaken to your soul, yet you will not be able to look away.
The many themes skillfully woven throughout the book are powerful: mother-daughter ironies, the issues of slavery and servitude, injustice, the servitude of women, sexual politics, poverty, the haves versus the have-nots, humanity's general cruelty -- each issue is skillfully explored without one hint of judgement or preachiness. In fact, this book is all about the story; nothing more, nothing less.
Mary herself is an enigma. Why did she make the choices she did; what made her so strong that she tried to create a new pattern for her life? Was she insane when she committed her crime? Did her lifetime of gruesome, heart-wrenching experiences cause her to lose her mind?
The final scene of the book is so powerful that I am getting shivers just thinking about it.
I wish I could explain what makes this novel so very compelling; but I don't have the words for it. All I can say is that here is a shimmering treasure of a novel. Pass it up and you'll be missing a rare opportunity to be one of the first readers of what is sure to become a classic for centuries to come.
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Format: Paperback
Born in 1748 London to a family that barely scrapes by, fourteen-year-old Mary Saunders possesses nothing that isn't gray or brown. She yearns for something more, though she's not worldly enough to know what the "something" is until a simple red ribbon, suspended in the folds of a peddler's coat, inspires in her a need so great that she allows herself to be raped in payment for it. As a result of the encounter, Mary becomes pregnant and is banished from her home and family for her shame. Further brutalized in a gutter on her first night on her own, Mary is rescued by Doll, a prostitute who lacks morals but not kindness.

Almost inevitably, the unskilled Mary becomes a prostitute under the tutelage of Doll. She's soon seduced by the money she can earn and the colorful clothes that money buys, as well as by her newfound "freedom." Plying "the trade" on the dirty and pitiless streets of London, Mary grows up fast. She develops a knack for reading people and manipulating them; yet, emotionally, she remains a child, tender and disastrously confused.

Eventually, a series of misfortunes sends Mary fleeing from London for her life. She travels to distant Monmouth, where her parents had met before leaving to seek their fortunes in London. Concocting a story about her "dead" mother's last wish, Mary secures a place in the household of her mother's erstwhile best friend, a dressmaker.

For the first time in her life, Mary experiences a nurturing environment, has people who care about her. Although her arrogance wins her no friends amongst the other servants, she feels happy for a time and learns to be an excellent seamstress. But her old demons still haunt her. Her yearning for the fine garments and fine lives of her employer's clients becomes insufferable.
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Format: Paperback
I didn't realize until the end of this book that Slammerkin was a fictionalized account of a real woman. Though little was known about Mary Saunders, Donoghue certainly brings her to life in this book.
The story is set in 18th century London where a young girl, Mary, makes one desperate decision that alters her life forever. A simple desire, one red ribbon, leads her down the road of darkness. Mary had a desire for beautiful things in her life but there wasn't much beauty to be found in this story. It is raw with realism and brutal in its descriptions. The author does not glorify the life of a prostitute. It is presented to us in all of its ugliness and is at times uncomfortable to read. This is the sign of remarkable writing. I was taken from my quiet life and placed in a time where horrendous things happened to young women at every turn.
I wanted to despise Mary, but I found myself sympathizing with her. Life was hard back then, and especially so for a young girl left to the street. Her dissatisfaction with her life was her greatest obstacle. To her, being a servant was no better than being a prostitute. In the end, her own impulsiveness caused her downfall.
I had no idea of the ending of this book before I picked it up. I was surprised to say the least. It was a dark read but worth the time. I will highly recommend it to others.
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By A Customer on February 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Set in England in a much different time and place, Slammerkin is a dark read. Emma Donaghue does an excellent job placing us in England in the 18th Century, with all of its societal rules and roles. We meet Mary, a young girl, and follow her, as she begins a descent into the darker side of old London. Based on true personages from this time period, Donaghue captures characters that are true to life, mysterious, and surprising. With each twist and turn, one wonders where the novel will go next. Impulsive, and immature, Mary takes us on a dark adventure through the time period.
Her escapades are never-ending, and her character will stick by you, whether or not you'd like her to be there.
Exploring significant characters often ignored by history books, and those wishing to push certain unmentionable events under the rug, Slammerkin provides for an insightful and intriguing read.
Although a very somber novel, it is very much worthwhile. It sat on my shelf much too long, before being read. Once I finally picked it up, I couldn't stop reading. I was intrigued and at times disgusted, but glued to the book, nonetheless. Enjoy!
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