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Unfashioned Creatures by [McDowell, Lesley]
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Unfashioned Creatures Kindle Edition

3.6 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Length: 292 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Review

Unfashioned Creatures...neatly captures the fevered menace of later 19th-century classics such as Wuthering Heights or indeed Frankenstein itself...These ghostly encounters are quietly chilling, and it's some compliment to McDowell that she succeeds so well in sweeping the modern reader into her world of pre-Victorian murk and superstition....As a psychological whodunit, Unfashioned Creatures keeps up the pressure, even beyond the final page. ... Unfashioned Creatures is a finely worked and confident flight of Gothic fancy that stands up well to scrutiny in our cynical, self-analytical age. McDowell's ear for dialogue is already finely tuned and her handling of the contrasting narratives deftly judged...a tantalising read. --Mary Crockett, The Scotsman

Set in 1823, when Mary Shelley's Frankenstein had become a bestseller, this novel imagines the life of Mary's real-life childhood friend Isabella Baxter Booth....Mary wrote about her as being 'disturbed in her reason', and Lesley McDowell makes this the premise for an exploration of madness and the prevailing attitudes to it in the 19th century, with a particular emphasis on the treatment of women deemed to be 'of unsound mind'. It is a rich historical context.... McDowell maintains an engaging edge of ambiguity throughout. Apart from being a highly intelligent historical exploration of madness and our attitudes to it, this novel is also a compelling account of the developing relationship between a psychiatrist and a patient, in which the former comes to exert an extraordinary power over the latter, with disturbing consequences. McDowell's prose is dense but sharp, charged with urgency by her deep interest in her subject. As in Alexander Balfour's theory of madness, her passion for it in this novel is infectious. --Brian McCabe, Herald Scotland

'A meticulously researched gothic novel full of madness, ghosts and murderous desires. Lesley McDowell brilliantly evokes the tension between the scientific imagination and creative longings. Monstrously good.' --Louise Welsh.


More praise for Lesley McDowell: 'McDowell's confident writing boasts smart dialogue and subtle lyrical style throughout.' --Scottish Review of Books

'Controversial and provocative.' --The Independent

Set in 1823, when Mary Shelley's Frankenstein had become a bestseller, this novel imagines the life of Mary's real-life childhood friend Isabella Baxter Booth....Mary wrote about her as being 'disturbed in her reason', and Lesley McDowell makes this the premise for an exploration of madness and the prevailing attitudes to it in the 19th century, with a particular emphasis on the treatment of women deemed to be 'of unsound mind'. It is a rich historical context.... McDowell maintains an engaging edge of ambiguity throughout. Apart from being a highly intelligent historical exploration of madness and our attitudes to it, this novel is also a compelling account of the developing relationship between a psychiatrist and a patient, in which the former comes to exert an extraordinary power over the latter, with disturbing consequences. McDowell's prose is dense but sharp, charged with urgency by her deep interest in her subject. As in Alexander Balfour's theory of madness, her passion for it in this novel is infectious. --Brian McCabe, Herald Scotland

'A meticulously researched gothic novel full of madness, ghosts and murderous desires. Lesley McDowell brilliantly evokes the tension between the scientific imagination and creative longings. Monstrously good.' - Louise Welsh. More praise for Lesley McDowell: 'McDowell's confident writing boasts smart dialogue and subtle lyrical style throughout.' - Scottish Review of Books. 'Controversial and provocative.' - The Independent. --Louise Welsh

About the Author

Lesley McDowell is a literary critic for The Herald, The Scotsman and The Independent on Sunday. Her first novel was The Picnic (2007). Her second book, Between the Sheets: The Literary Liaisons of Nine 20th-Century Women Writers, was shortlisted for the non-fiction prize in the 2011 Scottish Book Awards.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 862 KB
  • Print Length: 292 pages
  • Publisher: Saraband (7 Nov. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00F0L12XS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #199,447 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I'm a fan of Gothic novels, which gave me a head start with this one. Nevertheless, I was impressed by how Unfashioned Creatures manages to combine an elegant prose style from a writer who wears her learning and a vast amount of research lightly - (it always informs but never clouds the ficton) - with a genuinely page turning quality. I was quickly drawn in, and cared about Isabella. The fact that I was occasionally moved to rage by her relationships with the men in her life signifies only that she is an accurate evocation of a woman of her time. This makes for a powerful but disturbing read. Is Bella a reliable narrator or not? Is her account true, half true, or the imaginings of a deranged mind? But if Bella is disturbingly real, Alexander Balfour is an alarmingly credible creation too, a weak man with a fine conceit of his own genius, a damaged man who - because he has a modicum of power - has the capacity to damage others in turn and in dreadful ways. We see this, even while we recognize the tensions in him, his occasional flashes of morality, and our uneasy perception that no good can come of this. Can it? You'll have to read the novel to find out. There is madness, and a fascinating exploration of the treatment of madness at the time. There are ghosts, there is a vivid reality constantly blurred by the realization that things may not quite be as they seem - and finally, there is a painful evocation of the frustrations of intelligent and creative women at that time, a situation of which we can still see and feel the remnants, even today. All in all, this is a horribly good read!
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Format: Kindle Edition
I enjoyed the easy start to this book, drawn by the helpless situation in which the main character 'Bella' was entrenched. Set in a time when women were treated with opiates for their hysteria this book sums up the total madness of the period, (forgive the pun)where depression follows romantic expectations that fall apart. I thought how shocking it was that the women in this book searching for true romance become invovled with their untrustworhty men, who fail them, each and every time. I sensed the guilty defiance from Bella feeling trapped in a marraige dripping with disapproval from society and her shame of having a mad man for a husband. But it was not clear to me who was really mad, Bella or her husband and this was the hook that had me reading on. The second character, Alex, is no better in his relationships in my opinion. His ambition is pure professional recognition for his study of madness, which runs in his family. But it was the meeting of Bella and Alex, why and how, which led me on towards reading to the very end. An end which I disapproved of. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy the Gothic dark and unstable romantic tragedies of mad women. The writing and use of language come across brilliantly, although I think I spotted one or two modern words that seemed out of place. A good read for the dark winter nights.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was initially intrigued most of all by the Gothic nature of this book. It's rare you see a novel written in the present, described in such a way in its blurb as would make Northanger Abbey's Catherine swoon with delight. It reminded me of a few previous reads, most notably Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper'. Therefore I hoped to find some of the tightly written psychological dysfunction here that I found in that novella.

For the most part I was not disappointed. There are many smoke and mirror moments here (perhaps too many), in a book told from two perspectives. We alternate between the historical figure of Isabella Baxter Booth and the fictitious Doctor Alexander Balfour - the former the wife of a man who is losing his mind and the latter a psychologically traumatised 'mind doctor' striving for the perfect subject on which to write a book, and not caring what means he must take in order to achieve his goals.

For the majority of the book I far preferred Isabella's chapters. I found the author captured her character better, kept the question as to whether Isabella, as well as her husband, was psychologically unstable hanging above us. This made me question every incident and scene, making the climax of the book all that more tense and enjoyable as a result. Although there were stand out moments in the Alexander sections, his tale had many flat pages, during which I couldn't wait to reach the next entry concerning Isabella. The plot sometimes slowed to a snail's pace, which is why this is a four star and not five star review. I think it had a lot to do with the author attempting to place a lot of period appropriate psychological study within Alexander's chapters, often glossing over the more interesting aspects of his psyche and past as a result.
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Format: Paperback
This is a wonderfully dark book that combines a literary style with the added bonus of being a page-turner in its pace and suspense. I loved that the chapters flipped between the two main characters' perspectives, so that the reader was kept in doubt as to what was reality and what was madness even until the last moment - and, what an ending! I read it in one go, and experienced such an array of reactions, from confusion and frustration (mainly with Isabella's interaction with Alexander and David), to absolute horror at some points. Thoroughly recommended - definitely one for the Christmas list, too!
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