Martha Peake: A Novel of the Revolution

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9780140291391: Martha Peake: A Novel of the Revolution

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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Review:

"It is a black art, the writing is history, is it not?" So begins Patrick McGrath's gripping novel, Martha Peake, that takes the reader back into the heady revolutionary days of London and America in the 1770s. The story begins in the early 19th century, with the young Ambrose Tree paying a visit to his dying uncle William, Lord of the forbidding Drogo Hall, former residence of "the great anatomist Lord Drogo". Assuming that he is to inherit his uncle's estate, Ambrose instead finds himself drawn into his uncle's extraordinary story of Harry Peake and his headstrong young daughter, Martha Peake.

Harry, "to whom Nature in her folly gave the soul of a smuggler, and the tongue of a poet", is a Cornish smuggler, horrifically mutilated in a fire that kills his wife and disperses his children. Only the brave little Martha stands by her father, and follows him to London, where he becomes the "Cripplegate Monster". Harry recites his poetry and displays his hideously deformed body in the taverns and stews of London's underworld, but soon comes to the apparently sinister attentions of Lord Drogo, who "wanted him for his Museum of Anatomy". As father and daughter are inextricably drawn into Drogo's world, Harry turns to drink, catastrophically abusing Martha and sending her fleeing to America, where she becomes tragically embroiled in the struggle for independence from England. However, as the novel reaches its shocking climax, Ambrose gradually realises that the fate of both father and daughter is much closer to home than he can ever imagine.

Martha Peake is a wonderful story of "sacrifice and abomination and heroism and resolve and victory", a compelling and intelligent novel in the best 19th-century tradition of Dickens, whose literary ghost haunts the pages as powerfully as that of the memorable figure of Harry Peake and his tragic daughter. --Jerry Brotton

Review:

"An uncommon storyteller . . . . McGrath demonstrates his trademark ability to probe the layers of the human psyche." -"San Francisco Chronicle
""Unputdownable." -"The Washington Post
""A sweeping mytho-historical novel par excellence . . . ." -"Minneapolis Star Tribune
"
"["Martha Peake"] has rare qualities of power and urgency. . . . [Readers] are carried along by the eloquence and the energy and the brilliantly managed narrative pace." -"The New York Times Book Review"

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