Slammerkin – Emma Donoghue
I won’t beat around the bush – this book has leaped into my ‘favourite books’ list. And I feel with good reason. Slammerkin is the story of Mary Saunders, a young girl from London who ends up on the streets after getting pregnant as the result of being raped. Young and naive, Mary wanders the streets, wondering what to do next. She is eventually found by Doll Higgins, a streetwalker. The two form an unlikely friendship, and Mary moves in with Doll and learns about her lifestyle, which at first disgusts her. She soon realises, however, that as she currently has nothing and is living off Doll’s kindness, she must do something. So she bites the bullet and descends into prostitution, saving up enough money for a back street abortion. Now free of the worry of having a baby, Mary throws herself wholeheartedly into the life of being a ‘stroller’ and taking ‘cullies’ up back alleys. She embraces the freedom and easy money of selling her body and can’t ever see herself doing anything else.
However, Mary’s life, never straightforward, becomes more complicated. After an illness, she goes into a home for disadvantaged women, leaving Doll on the outside. She tells herself that as soon as she’s better, she’ll leave an go back to her friend immediately, which she does. Only things have changed. Poor Doll has perished and lies frozen with cold in the alley by their lodgings. Alone again, Mary retrieves her belongings from their room, disturbing the landlady in the process. Accused of theft Mary runs, chased by the infamous Caesar; a huge black man famed from his knife and the unspeakable things he’s done with it.
Knowing she’ll never be safe in London again, Mary boards a carriage bound for Monmouth, her mother and father’s hometown, hoping to find an old friend of her mother’s and be taken in. Mary now believes she is leaving her old life behind her, but it seems unwilling to let go that easily…
This book is truly exceptional. You truly feel for Mary’s plight, as in her youth she doesn’t really know what’s happening. But a few months on the street and she’s a hardened whore, caring about nothing except ale, clothes and her best friend Doll. The two are a force to be reckoned with and care about each other deeply. Just as you think Mary has found her feet, albeit in the trade of prostitution, everything is whipped away from her once more. You begin to wonder where Mary’s tale will end. Will she get her happy ever after, or will she continue to run from her problems? You simply have to read this book to find out. It’s excellent – the characters are many, but all excellently portrayed, and the settings give a real feel for what things were like in the 18th century. Gripping and breathtaking with laugh out loud moments, I’d recommend this to any book lover.