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The Pharmacist's Wife Paperback – 5 Apr 2018
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With shades of Sarah Waters, independence and vengeance make for a winning tale * Stylist * This chilling atmospheric novel will appeal to fans of The Miniaturist and The Essex Serpent. * RED Online * A fascinating, darkly powerful novel with biting attitude... Raw, elemental and disturbing, The Pharmacist's Wife is an entirely captivating, enthralling read - highly recommended. * LoveReading * A truly addictive, deeply atmospheric, sensual yarn... similar to the works of Sarah Waters and Michel Faber, it makes for a compelling, irresistible, utterly delicious read. * Goodreads * A captivating book.... It is a story that is both whimsical and disturbing -- Review for THE LOOKING GLASS HOUSE * Lady * Tait's engaging novel... is sensuous and lyrical -- Review for THE LOOKING GLASS HOUSE * Sunday Telegraph * Moving and original -- Kate Saunders, Review for THE LOOKING GLASS HOUSE * The Times *
About the Author
Vanessa Tait grew up in Gloucestershire. She went to the University of Manchester and completed a Master's degree in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College. The Pharmacist's Wife is her second novel.
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Set in the late 19th Century, this is Victorian England at it's stuffiest where appearances matter far more than the reality. Afraid of being an Old Maid of 28 and no word from her beau after he has gone to Egypt to further his father's business Rebecca Massey accepts the hurried proposal of pharmacist Alexander Palmer. She still holds a flame in her heart for Gabriel but believes that he is lost to her and tries her best to settle in to being a good wife to her husband.
Unfortunately for Rebecca her husband is not all that he seems and she becomes convinced he is having an affair with the enigmatic Evangeline. Her only friend is her maid, Jenny, until she decides to take Evangeline to task about the affair and discovers that she was so very wrong.
The true genius of this book is it's vivid descriptions of the descent in to addiction to Heroin (newly synthesised by Mr Palmer) and his experiments to show how wonderful it is for subjugating the weaker, hysterical sex. Couple this with the strong characterisation of every person within the pages it is a well written book that is compulsive reading.
So, why not 5 Stars then? Well, I have a couple of niggles with it:
At one point Rebecca rushes downstairs to answer the door to a street urchin who brings a letter with him from Eva stating that she can show Rebecca the mystery of the shoe that was found in Mr Palmer's study. We are told that she rushes to the door barefoot. The next we know she is throwing her cloak on without pause to meet up with Eva and is out the door. It turns out she has slippers on (as revealed 10 or so pages later) but how they got there who knows.
The scenes in the Bawdy House with it's Tom and Toffers whilst well written reminded of nothing more than Tipping The Velvet as produced by the BBC. The whole scene just feels cinematic and although it fits with the tone of the book in general it does jar against the earlier scene setting.
The plot itself is well paced and the dream sequences when Rebecca has taken her medicine are glorious flashbacks in her life. The denouement does come as a little bit of a surprise but you do find yourself eagerly turning the pages and urging Rebecca on.
A wonderfully realised tale that you will get lost in.
I RECEIVED A FREE COPY OF THIS BOOK FROM READERS FIRST IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW.
Initially the ‘medicine’ her husband prescribes (described by him as like bathing ‘an individual’s brain in a vat of contentment’) eases Rebecca’s anxieties and provokes pleasant dreams, memories of her first love, Gabriel. However, since we soon learn that this ‘wonder drug’ is in fact heroin, unsurprisingly Rebecca finds herself increasingly dependent on the drug to get through the day. And, as events unfold, it transpires Rebecca is not the first person to have been subjected to Alexander’s experiments.
With the exception of Gabriel, none of the male characters come out very well from the story. Alexander, as well as using his wife as a guinea pig for his pharmaceutical experiments, is revealed to have unusual sexual proclivities and fetishes. Alexander’s friend and business partner, the aptly named Mr Badcock, is a particularly unpleasant example of manhood. Ironically, when both men eventually learn of the other’s vices, their hypocritical response is to condemn each other’s actions.
I really enjoyed the period atmosphere of the book and the descriptions of 19th century Edinburgh, including the less salubrious parts of the Old Town. ‘Here the streets were not as straight as they were in New Town. They stuttered with differently angled, differently sized houses and lurched into the alleyways as if they were drunk.’
The Pharmacist’s Wife convincingly illustrates the stages of drug dependency, with higher and higher doses needed to achieve the desired result, and the dreadful effects of addiction. It also engages with the inequality between men and women at that time. Sexual, economic, legal and psychological power all rested in the hands of men. It’s a time when even a normal bodily function such as menstruation is regarded as a ‘disease’ and when it was seriously believed that ‘women’s temperament…could not bear as much as men.’ Childbirth, anyone?
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