The late 18th century. When the Byronic Harry Peake is disfigured in a tragic accident, he and his daughter, Martha, are forced to move from the wild coasts of Cornwall to the dank strects of London. Here they live in a rough hewn harmony until Harry's tortured soul grows dangerously unruly, forcing Martha to flee - first to the asylum of an English nobleman, then to the rebellion soaked shores of America. Finally it appears Martha might find real contentment, but can she change the course of her own tragic destiny? Martha Peake is an utterly gripping, beautifully written and haunting masterwork.
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"It is a black art, the writing of a history, is it not?" So begins Martha Peake, a gripping narrative that takes the reader back to London and America during the revolutionary epoch of the 1770s. Patrick McGrath's sixth work of fiction begins several decades later, when young Ambrose Tree is summoned to visit his dying Uncle William at Drogo Hall. Assuming that he is about to inherit his uncle's estate, he rushes across Lambeth Marsh to the great manor house. Instead, though, he's promptly drawn into his uncle's extraordinary story of Harry Peake and his headstrong young daughter, Martha.
Harry, "to whom Nature in her folly gave the soul of a smuggler, and the tongue of a poet," was a Cornish smuggler, horrifically mutilated in a fire that killed his wife and dispersed his children. Only Martha stood by him. As the story unfolds, she follows her father to London, where the self-anointed, poetry-spouting "Cripplegate Monster" displays his hideously deformed body in the taverns and watering holes of London's underworld. Soon Harry comes to the sinister attentions of Lord Drogo, who "wanted him for his Museum of Anatomy." As father and daughter are drawn into this gentleman scientist's world, Harry turns to drink, catastrophically abusing Martha and sending her fleeing to America, where she becomes embroiled in the struggle for independence from England. At this point, the story may seem to have wandered far afield. But as Martha Peake reaches its climax, Ambrose realizes that the fate of both parent and child is much closer to home than he could ever have imagined.
Practicing the black art of storytelling to near-perfection, Patrick McGrath has produced a wonderful tale of "sacrifice and abomination and heroism and resolve and victory." The book's darkness and intermittent grotesquerie will cement his New Gothic reputation. Still, Martha Peake belongs more arguably in the company of Charles Dickens, whose literary ghost haunts these pages no less powerfully than those of the tragic father-and-daughter team. --Jerry BrottonFrom the Inside Flap:
Master storyteller Patrick McGrath--author of the critically acclaimed novel Asylum and a finalist for England's prestigious Whitbread Prize for fiction--once again spins a hypnotic tale of psychological suspense and haunting beauty. Set among the teeming streets and desolate wharves of Hogarth's London, then shifting to the powder-keg colony of Massachusetts Bay, Martha Peake envelops the reader in a world on the brink of revolution, and introduces us to a flame-haired heroine who will live in the imagination long after the last page is turned.
Settled with our narrator beside a crackling fire, we hear of the poet and smuggler Harry Peake--how Harry lost his wife, Grace, in a tragic fire that left him horribly disfigured; how he made a living displaying his deformed spine in the alehouses of eighteenth-century London; and how his only solace was his devoted daughter, Martha, who inherited all of his fire but none of his passion for cheap gin. As the drink eats away at Harry's soul, it opens ancient wounds; when he commits one final act of unspeakable brutality, Martha, fearing for her life, must flee for the American colonies. Once safely on America's shores, Martha immerses herself in the passions of smoldering rebellion. But even in this land of new beginnings, she is unable to escape the past. Caught up in a web of betrayals, she redeems herself with one final, unforgettable act of courage.
Superbly plotted and wholly absorbing, Martha Peake is an edge-of-your-seat shocker that is crafted with the psychological precision Patrick McGrath's fans have come to expect. A writer whose novels The New York Times Book Review has called both "mesmerizing" and "brilliant," McGrath applies his remarkable imaginative powers to a fresh and broad historical canvas. Martha Peake is the poignant, often disturbing tale of a child fighting free of a father's twisted love, and of the colonists' struggle to free themselves from a smothering homeland. It is Patrick McGrath's finest novel yet.
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Book Description Penguin Books Ltd, 2001. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0140291393