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Slammerkin (2002)

Slammerkin (2002)

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3.67 of 5 Votes: 5
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0156007479 (ISBN13: 9780156007474)
mariner books

About book Slammerkin (2002)

“Clothes outlived people, she knew that. Clothes were more of a sure thing.”“Slammerkin” refers to both a loose woman and a loose gown, and the sartorial is a constant motif in this story about a teen-aged prostitute named Mary Saunders in London and Monmouth, a Welsh border town, in the 1760s. There was an actual person of this name, but Emma Donoghue had only a very few sketchy facts from which she created this moving fiction that effectively illustrates that, in the mid-18th century anyway, life was short and brutal, and then you died. The journey was especially harsh if you didn’t have any money, and for women, it was even more harrowing due to the paucity of options. Donoghue’s Mary has a grim-faced mother who works as a low-paid sewer of piece work, the bottom of the seamstress barrel. Drabness and drudgery are something the 14-year-old Mary abhors and she’s sure she’s meant for finer things. She wants color in her life, freedom from the work that’s making her mother prematurely old, and a future that is better than the dreary existence she sees all around her. Dream on, little Mary, dream on. Her path is chosen by fate when she becomes covetous of a pretty red ribbon, is molested by the ribbon vendor, becomes pregnant, and is thrown out on the streets by her hard-working, pious mother. After a gang rape leaves her close to death, she is taken in by a local whore who shelters her and trains in the tricks of the trade. Despite the hardships of this life, she still finds it suits her better than the more respectable but constricting, back-breaking, and soul-crushing alternatives open to her. It allows her to attain her most important desire, which is her liberty. She also learns that, out in the world, “clothes make the woman” and that “clothes are the greatest lie ever told.” Her appearance is a means to getting what she wants. Not only does she want to look pretty – what girl doesn’t?—but there is a practical aspect too. It keeps her from falling even further socially and economically, into the kind of destitution that means rapid death by starvation in a freezing alley or being murdered by someone even more desperate. And her realization that appearances can be deceiving reinforces her belief that the better-dressed are not necessarily superior to her, further strengthening her desire for social mobility. There is much description throughout the book of clothing, fabrics, and women’s accessories which are integral to the story, but that might be off-putting to some readers (read: “men”). But this emphasis on apparel and fashion all ties in with Mary’s need for some beauty in her world and with her conviction that a certain appearance is a survival technique.Concern about survival is at the core of Mary’s motivations and her capacity for caring about others or her actions’ effects on them is sorely limited, understandable given her youth and her small experience with anything resembling trusting or nurturing relationships. Nor is she is temperamentally suited to the resignation displayed by so many working class types she has contact with, such as her mother, or a mother-substitute later in the story when she takes temporary shelter at the home of a family friend. Their philosophy is, where you are is where you’re supposed to be; it doesn’t occur to them to question or try to change their lot. They keep their heads down and spend their grueling days being grateful it isn’t even worse. At her mother’s old friend’s home Mary manages to fake a life as a respectable servant girl / seamstress apprentice for a while, learning more about sewing and fashion that she hopes to use to elevate herself later, daydreaming, as girls will, about a glamorous life. Getting an education about better quality clothing stokes her desires for even finer things, without getter her any closer to a real means of attaining them. Mary yearns for freedom, class mobility and beauty. For life to be nothing but servitude, under the control of other for bare sustenance, and daily bleakness without hope is not something her young and spirited but rather cold heart can ever come to terms with. And in that time and place, this drive rebounds on her to a world of hurt. Mary’s narcissistic character might not be an admirable one, but I did feel some compassion for this girl, slightly more than a child, who hardly stood a chance in these circumstances, and who had few opportunities to develop close emotional connections or a moral compass. There was a point where a couple of tenuous threads connecting her with others began to be spun, but in the end they are too thin to withstand the events that befall her and her own weaknesses, ambition, and restlessness. Mary at 14 and 15 doesn’t have the maturity to develop any view other than that which centers on her immediate wants and needs and fears. It is not a happy story, but a well-told one. In spite of the potential for this to be a depressing story, I did not find it so, although parts of it were sad. Donoghue manages to weave a compelling tale about distressing situations in an engaging way, just as she did in Room. The details of this world are colorful and vividly drawn, from the symptoms of the diseases the whores were prone to, to the sumptuous embroidered fabrics worn by the well-to-do, to the customs at seasonal festivals and funerals, to all the family fun to be had at public executions, with their picnicking and rope-bit souvenirs. Recommended for fans of historical fiction.

Okay, so this is the first Donoghue book I have read and it's a book which I knew very little about before reading or buying it as I picked this up mainly because I loved the cover and there were a few people I knew planning to do a buddy read of it and I wanted to join them. A few things I know now as I've finished it up, this is a historical fiction coming of age story where we follow Mary Saunders, a young girl who lives in London in the 1700s with her mother (a seamstress) and stepfather (her's died when she was barely born).I haven't read a great deal of Historical Fiction but it is always a genre which I quite enjoy because I have a fair fascination with Historical periods I don't know much about and always finding out more about them is interesting to me. Some things I particularly liked about this book were the setting, England (as I live in England and visit London a lot so I could recognise and picture some scenes a lot better than had it been set in New York for example). I also felt like Donoghue did a good job with setting the scene and making you feel like you could see it before you, not in a lyrical way, but more so a 'rough and ready' way.The main character of the story, Mary, is a young girl who has intelligence and wit, but gets herself into some rather sticky situations due to her vanity and love for fine things. She spies a beautiful ribbon or item of clothing and it's all she can think about, yet at the same time she knows what is a 'good' or 'respectable' thing to do (whether she does it or not is a whole other question). Mary is a character who I think it's easy to like. She's got some life in her and a good sense of adventure and fun, yet she's not necessarily sure of who or what she wants to be in her life. This leads her gradually further and further from her families plans for her, and sets her on some rather dark paths.The writing was easy to read, nothing overly fancy, but nothing too dull wither. We got simple descriptions of places and people, and Mary built relationships up as she went. We did get some quotes from both riddles, nursery rhymes and bible passages and these all helped to authenticate the time period and story and gave it a bit more of a whimsical, dark quality at times. On the whole I think it's a fairly fast and interesting historical fiction with some exciting events I didn't anticipate and some moments where I very much enjoyed it. I would say that if you haven't read much Historical Fiction then this is probably a great start point for its readability, and if you have any interest in the 'poorer' point of view for this time period then it's a quick read with some highlight moments. I gave this a 3.5*s as I liked it! :)

Do You like book Slammerkin (2002)?

A slammerkin, as is noted on the cover is a loose dress, a loose woman. I love this book so much that I actually couldn't bear to read the end the first time around. Gender and poverty is really well explored. I love the way the main character becomes a prostitute--she wants to buy a ribbon, she can't afford it, so she agrees to kiss this peddler of ribbons and ends up sort of getting raped (that word just seems so harsh even though it's exactly what happened.) Everything is just perfect--that it's only a ribbon, that she only agrees to the kiss and then of course that the need for material things continues, and the question looming over all of it--why is there such income disparity that she can't get these things, has very few avenues to get them. All of this is done in such a way that you see she does have alternatives and basically does appreciate the finer things a little much. Also Emma Donoghue is an excellent stylist.My one caveat that I have with all of Donoghue's books is that she seems incapable of depicting heterosexual relationships in a positive light and it's always the homosexual ones that seem the most natural and real. But given the way women were treated at the time--well, it just seems like it would be hard to have a positive relationship with a man because they...I'm having too much trouble finishing this sentence, I'll cut it off here.
—Maya Rock

I am torn between 4 and 5 stars. 4.5 stars is the compromise. But that's not allowed here. So 5 stars then. It was a roller coaster ride. It begins with the protagonist's character development which I thought was fine. It was about a 14 year old girl named Mary Saunders who grew up with a not-so-well-off family. She also has family problems since her mother and stepdad are not so fond of her. Things started to get weird when she was asked to buy something outside but then, she saw an old man selling ribbons. Mary was instantaneously drawn to the ribbons and asked for one. Since she doesn't have any cash, and since the book cover and title suggest something sensual, one would automatically think that Mary gave up her virginity just to get a ribbon. And yes, that's what happened. I hated Mary for that.Things got more complicated when she was disowned by her parents. She was left in the cold streets of London and old dirty men trashed and raped her. I really felt sorry for her. But my pity escalated even more when she found out that she was pregnant. Good thing that her newly-met friend Doll Higgins (who is a sex worker) was there to help her. Bad thing is she pushed Mary to have an abortion. Poor Mary. Since Mary has nothing to lose, she made a sex worker out of herself- looking for men with testosterone to spare in dark alleys. Then the story went on, and on, and on. After quite some time, she worked for the Joneses as a maid and assistant in their dress shop. Of course, she wanted to start a new life, and of course she failed miserably in that attempt. This is the part when Mary looked really really bad to me. She want back to being a prostitute. She even had sex with her master, Mr. Jones. Damn Mary. Bad Mary. She deserves no stars for that. What I hated about Mary, and what I hated about her the most, and this is a major spoiler alert, is that she killed her master, Mrs. Jones, who treated her as a genuine daughter. Good thing justice applied well at the end, or not. I don't feel any remorse for her. I mean she already was given another chance but she messed it up. But more importantly, I felt goosebumps at the very end when Emma Donoghue wrote that all of these are based on true accounts. Okay, clap clap for Ms. Emma. :)
—Renz Homer Cerillo

I read the whole thing, to my shock. In the author's defense, there was a vast and rather intriguing group of characters, but none of them were likeable. There is the bitter mother that rues the day she gave birth to a worthless girl, prostitute whose life was utterly pointless, the tailor lady that thought it ok to have a slave, the minister that was also a pimp on the side, the disloyal husband, the religious but hateful fanatic, and last, but certainly not least, an incredible spoiled brat, which is the heroine in this story. The closest I came to feeling sorry or feeling anything at all for any of these characters was the slave. Every other character in this book is a hypocrit. The jolly prostitute may be the only exception. She at least was honest about what she was and held her up and drank and was cheerful. She did not feel the need to kill, steal, or hurt others to rise above her "station" in life. All in all, this book disgusted me. There was a little too much detail about the "cullies" (male customers) and the actual acts. However, it was interesting to get a look at the non royal life. I have read so much about the rich royal family, that it was interesting to get a feel for what went on outside the palaces in that time. Thus, I gave it two stars. However, this book is not memorable and will not enrich your life in any way.
—Tara Chevrestt

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