Slammerkin | Emma Donoghue


Slammerkin: loose gown or loose woman.

I loved Room by Emma Donoghue – she wrote about unforgetable characters with such emotional force that I was very keen to try another one of her books.

London in the 1700’s was not an easy place to be if you were poor and female. Mary is both of these things, but she is also ambitious. Throughout the grinding poverty of her childhood she dreams of a better life, a bit of colour, a pretty dress, a red ribbon.

But it is a red ribbon that ultimately causes Mary to be cut off from her family and left to fend for herself.

While I empathised with Mary’s desire to overcome her poverty and hard life and sympathised with her dream for something better, I cringed away from her blind selfishness and inability to learn from her mistakes. Mary bounced from one bad decision to the next, often at the expense of other people.

And just when you think she has finally come good, she blows it all in dramatic fashion.

Donoghue captures the details of time and place beautifully. Mary is another unforgetable character. I may have failed to connect with Mary on an emotional level, but the emotions on display where raw and believable. Mary frustrated me, she annoyed me, I didn’t particularly like her; but I wanted to know how her story ended and there was a part of me that hoped that she would come good.

Slammerkin is a must for historical fiction fans who like their heroines to show their warts and all.

Mary Saunders, a lower-class London schoolgirl, was born into rough cloth but hungered for lace and the trappings of a higher station than her family would ever know. In 18th-century England, Mary’s shrewd instincts will get her only so far, and she despairs of the plans made for her to carve out a trade as a seamstress or a maid. Unwilling to bend to such a destiny, Mary strikes out on a painful, fateful journey all her own.

Inspired by the obscure historical figure Mary Saunders, Slammerkin is a provocative, graphic tale and a rich feast of an historical novel. Author Emma Donoghue probes the gap between a young girl’s quest for freedom and a better life and the shackles that society imposes on her. “Never give up your liberty.”

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