Synopsis from Amazon:
A brilliant rendering of a scandalous historical figure, Kate Manning’s My Notorious Life is an ambitious, thrilling novel introducing Axie Muldoon, a fiery heroine for the ages.
Axie’s story begins on the streets of 1860s New York. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day.
In vivid prose, Axie recounts how she is forcibly separated from her mother and siblings, apprenticed to a doctor, and how she and her husband parlay the sale of a few bottles of “Lunar Tablets for Female Complaint” into a thriving midwifery business. Flouting convention and defying the law in the name of women’s reproductive rights, Axie rises from grim tenement rooms to the splendor of a mansion on Fifth Avenue, amassing wealth while learning over and over never to trust a man who says “trust me.”
When her services attract outraged headlines, Axie finds herself on a collision course with a crusading official—Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. It will take all of Axie’s cunning and power to outwit him in the fight to preserve her freedom and everything she holds dear.
Inspired by the true history of an infamous female physician who was once called “the Wickedest Woman in New York,” My Notorious Life is a mystery, a family saga, a love story, and an exquisitely detailed portrait of nineteenth-century America. Axie Muldoon’s inimitable voice brings the past alive, and her story haunts and enlightens the present.
This is one of the best books I’ve read in a LONG time. I was immediately drawn into the story, and invested in the character of “Axie” – a poverty-stricken young girl in 19th century New York City, begging for scraps just to keep her mother and 2 siblings alive. It’s truly an epic story, how she rises from this to wealthy beyond her wildest dreams, but also infamous and controversial.
The story reminded me somewhat of a cross between Ami McKay’s two books, The Birth House and The Virgin Cure, both of which I enjoyed. It had the midwifery aspect of The Birth House, combined with the 19th century Manhattan setting of The Virgin Cure. The history was fascinating, and I have to admit I wondered more than a few times about the efficacy and safety of “Lunar Tablets for Female Complaint.” Did such a thing really exist? And did it work as claimed?
This is also a tale of a very early feminist, and the men who would do anything to keep women from accessing contraception, declaring it “immoral” and “smut” and making it illegal even for pamplets hoping to educate women in the sexual process to be distributed.
I really can’t recommend this book highly enough. Definitely my favourite book that I’ve read so far this year.
Rating: 5/5 stars
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