FICTION

Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen

Knopf. Nov. 2019. 336p. ISBN 9781101871935. pap. $27.95. F
COPY ISBN
In 1726, Mary Toft, from the rural English town of Godalming, suddenly begins giving birth to dismembered rabbits. Local surgeon John Howard is called to attend the births, bringing with him teenage apprentice Zachary. The rational Howard is confounded as these births continue and writes to the top medical minds in London for assistance. As the experts venture to Godalming, word gets out, creating a circuslike atmosphere in the town. Finally, Mary is taken to London at the request of King George. When the “births” cease following her arrival, Howard and the others must face the possibility that they’ve been taken in by a hoax. Told largely from Zachary’s viewpoint, the book begins with Zachary and Howard’s attendance at a semi-fraudulent traveling show, “The Exhibition of Medical Curiosities,” with the suspension of disbelief required to accept the reality of these curiosities acting as a metaphor for the story of Mary Toft.
VERDICT Drawing on a true incident, Palmer (The Dream of Perpetual Motion) pits the age-old human desire to believe the miraculous against the emerging rationalism of the scientific community in Mary’s time. In this yearning to believe what we’d like to be true over the facts, the novel perhaps offers some parallels to our own time. [See Prepub Alert, 5/13/19.]

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


RELATED 

Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.