The Nature of Monsters
The Nature of Monsters
by Clare Clark
The title and the cover of this book had me sold from the beginning and with out any research on the novel or the artist I jumped into its pages. It did not take long for me to understand that Clare Clark is one of the most talented living writers. The Nature of Monsters is a modern day traditional Gothic novel, written in a style that resembles 19th century writers, which is a talent that few writers today have. The only other writer I have read, whose work comes remotely close to her skill, is Michael Cox, the author of The Meaning of Night. (That book is for another post.)
Clark has a fantastic ability to create a dense and complete atmosphere through her story-telling that pervades off of the pages into the very room around you. She is patient with her writing and takes her time developing each scene and every character as the story evolves in a most natural way.
As for the story, it follows the life of a young girl named Eliza who travels from rural England to live in early 18th century London. Part of what is special about this novel is the point of view of the narrator, Eliza, who describes in ugly detail what London was like not only in the 18th century, but what it looks like through her quiet country eyes. From her words we can feel, smell and taste of the time.
Eliza has come to London to become the servant of an apothecary, who is a demented man seeking to prove his theory that nature can create a real life monster. His theory is that what happens to the mother in pregnancy will affect the child, believe this from his own experience. This was a common theory before the development of modern medicine. There was once the idea that if a woman was pregnant and had impure thoughts of a man that was not her husband then her child would look like that man.
It is scary to think of what it would be like to live in a world where such thoughts were not only believed, but taught as medicine. At this time in history it was thought that the blood was created in the stomach and then flowed to the heart where it was burned like oil in a furnace. If someone had a fever they would be bled to remove the excess blood that was thought to be over heating the body.
As I mentioned before this book resembles a traditional Gothic novels in that there is no real ghost or monster. In the beginning, there was always a sinister person or group of vagabonds pretending to be ghouls and this novel keeps with that tradition. There is no mythical monster born from hell that then crawled out of the darkest woods for the deepest seas. Tradition shows that monsters are real, but they are living breathing people, like the apothecary who is himself only a cruel man sinister thoughts.
Gothic novels are also called gothic, because they take place in the old cathedrals and castles that we still see standing today. As much as these structures inspire us now they inspired the imaginations of artists hundreds of years ago. This novel is no different. In an interview (here) Clark explains how much St. Paul’s Cathedral inspired her to write this story and how she imagined that others in history were captivated by the immense structure.
Before you read this novel I must warn you that it is not for the faint of heart as it is a disturbing story. But if you can survive the rough patches , I’ll tell you, with out a spoiler alert, that there is a light at the other end of the pages.
For more you can read a review here and find more about Clare Clarks other novels The Great Stink and Savage Lands.