Publication Date: 10th September 2013
Book Source: Scribner & NetGalley
Synopsis: A brilliant rendering of a scandalous historical figure, Kate Manning’s My Notorious Life is an ambitious, thrilling novel introducing Axie Muldoon, a fiery heroine for the ages.
Axie’s story begins on the streets of 1860s New York. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day.
In vivid prose, Axie recounts how she is forcibly separated from her mother and siblings, apprenticed to a doctor, and how she and her husband parlay the sale of a few bottles of “Lunar Tablets for Female Complaint” into a thriving midwifery business. Flouting convention and defying the law in the name of women’s reproductive rights, Axie rises from grim tenement rooms to the splendor of a mansion on Fifth Avenue, amassing wealth while learning over and over never to trust a man who says “trust me.”
When her services attract outraged headlines, Axie finds herself on a collision course with a crusading official—Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. It will take all of Axie’s cunning and power to outwit him in the fight to preserve her freedom and everything she holds dear.
Inspired by the true history of an infamous female physician who was once called “the Wickedest Woman in New York,” My Notorious Life is a mystery, a family saga, a love story, and an exquisitely detailed portrait of nineteenth-century America. Axie Muldoon’s inimitable voice brings the past alive, and her story haunts and enlightens the present
My Notorious Life is loosely based on the 19th century New York midwife and abortionist Ann Trow better known as Madame Restell. With stunning attention to detail Kate Manning chronicles the life of Axie Muldoon, giving readers an unflinching and intimate view of a woman's lot in life in 19th century America.
I've read many novels about women in this period, their options and rights in relation to health and fertility sadly lacking regardless of social class, the high risk of sexual exploitation, responsibility and shame, often theirs alone to bear, women's bodies worn out by multiple pregnancies. My Notorious Life is one of the best I've read and it's an emotionally harrowing read.
Despite the heartache, this is still a novel of light and shade. I adored the passion, angst, trouble and laughs that Axie and fellow Orphan Train reject, Charlie, find in their marriage and life together. I loved watching their characters' grow, falter, pick up the pieces and mature.
Between Kate Manning's vivid writing and Axie's authentic and compelling voice, I could not have been more thoroughly immersed in a period in history ... the squalor, poverty, hunger, the disparity between social classes, desperation oozing from the page and Axie's compassion and sensibility at the risk of her own safety, entirely believable.
Manning’s descriptions of Axie’s medical & midwifery practices are alternatively fascinating and horrifying, hopeful and heartbreaking ... regardless of your views, pro-choice, pro-life or other, I'd be shocked if you felt anything but compassion for the plight of the women described within these pages.
A powerful read and a favourite this year!
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