Monday, November 5, 2018

A Taste For Monsters - Matthew J Kirby

Summary: It’s London 1888, and Jack the Ripper is terrorizing the people of the city. Evelyn, a young woman disfigured by her dangerous work in a matchstick factory, who has nowhere to go, does not know what to make of her new position as a maid to the Elephant Man in the London Hospital. Evelyn wants to be locked away from the world, like he is, shut in from the filth and dangers of the streets. But in Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, she finds a gentle kindred who does not recoil from her and who understands her pain.

When the murders begin, however, Joseph and Evelyn are haunted nightly by the ghosts of the Ripper’s dead, setting Evelyn on a path to facing her fears and uncovering humanity’s worst nightmares. (summary and image from

My Review: This book took me completely by surprise, meaning I didn't really expect to like it as much as I did.  I don't often delve into historical fiction, but the premise excited me and from the moment I began reading, I didn't want to put it down.

This is a proper ghost story, though as the book's tagline states, the scariest ones might not be the dead.  I loved our main character, Evelyn--she is fully rounded  and feels so vividly real and believable.  We get to experience this gritty world through her eyes in a way we don't often think of.  

Because this book was so visual.  This is London in the late 1800s, the slums and its peoples, their way of life.  Kirby doesn't powder it up--I could just feel the grime of the dirty streets, the degradation, the fear, hopelessness.  Evelyn wishes to escape that, not only because she's a woman and hopes to avoid prostitution, but because of her facial deformity which makes everyone gawk and stare.  And it is in the London Hospital where she becomes a maid servant to Joseph Merrick that she believes she's finally found safety.

What I love about how Kirby spun the narrative of this book is that he took two simultaneous timelines, that of Joseph Merrick's stay in the London Hospital, and the Whitchapel murders, and wove this theme of monsters.  We have Leather Apron (a name of Jack the Ripper), the killer murdering and slicing up women in Whitechapel slums, we hear his horrible deeds as the characters ponder on who it could be and if he will be caught.  This comes in stark contrast to Mr. Merrick, who has been seen by the world as monstrous, put in freak shows as the Elephant Man with a disability and disfigurement that keep him separate from the world, and even exploited by his doctor, but was known to all as the most sincere, kind and guileless man.  This book showed how tender and gentle he was.

It further goes on to address the theme of monsters in our main character, Evelyn.  She sees herself as a monster, she has lived a difficult life that has hardened her, done things she's not proud of, and we can see that fight in her demeanor--but that hard life has not taken away her kindness.  She is a stalwart if ever there was one, facing up to her fears over and over again, caring only for the safety of her friend Mr. Merrick even over her own position or safety.

I must also add I like how Kirby humanized those who were murdered--often they are seen as merely victims, faceless names attached to a notorious killer--but this book gave us stories behind the women, let us see their hopes and dreams and eventual peace. 

Gripping ghost story, murder mystery, and character piece.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: The descriptions of the Whitechapel murders are fairy vivid.  There are numerous ghost hauntings, some more frightening than others. There is also an attempted (but thankfully halted) sexual assault, brief discussion of men's anatomy, and some mild language.

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