It’s not hard to find people who are monsters – not flesh-and-blood cryptids (I wish they were easier to find), but actual monsters.
These are people who use their position, their power, their wit or intellect, their titles, professions and dark greed to hurt other people. And they are everywhere. I’m almost positive that if you closed your eyes and thought for only a few seconds, you could conjure up the image of someone who fit that bill.
Maybe its a historical figure, such as Hitler or Bundy. Maybe it’s someone who you knew or know.
The point remains – we all know monsters exist.
I picked up The Nature of Monsters by Clare Clark in a used bookstore. The back cover proved promising, it didn’t look like an overly long or tedious read and it was set in the early 1700’s, a time-era I wanted to read more about (especially if the book focused itself in an apothecary shop).
And yet, the book took me several months to read through.
Not because the writing was dry – in fact, I found the writing itself to be incredibly descriptive, vivid and gripping.
Moreover, it was the complete depravity and hopelessness placed forth in the book – it made it hard to read and was akin to churning your way through an endless mire of grief and bitterness.
The book starts off with a lewd description of the main lead – she’s the daughter of a midwife and her mother essentially pawns her off into the arms of a lord’s son in the hopes of snatching her daughter a better future.
Except, the world doesn’t work that way.
With some awkward Rated R scenes (I’m still trying to figure out if Clare just wanted to disturb us, or if she intended those moments to be spicy at all), we are quickly realize that our leading lady – hardly more than a girl herself – is pregnant.
Then, surprise surprise, the lord has no intentions of letting his son marry a commoner, even one he might have gotten pregnant, and the leading lady (named Eliza Tally) is uprooted from her unhappy home-life with her scheming mother into an even more unhappy servant life with a London apothecary.
The plot itself is good. The writing is, honestly, stunning, but the way Clarke wields her magnificent pen is…hard to read.
There is this…trope in historical fiction, especially when it pertains to London, that if the writer does not mention foul smells, mud, feces or vomit on every single page, then they are somehow lacking.
And Clarke does her absolute best to make that trope proud.
Reading this book, despite how well-written it was, felt similar to watching an old-timey body-oddities show under a smoky circus tent.
“Look at the freak!” Clarke seemed to say, but instead of pointing to a twisted man or a half-beast, she is pointing at humanity itself.
Clarke spares very little love for any of her characters: Eliza is selfish, harsh, brutal and unloving and everyone else follows suit. The lead characters are all harsh, obsessed with their own and each other’s bodies (and not in an erotic, paper-back romance way – but in a “please stop talking about about the weird aspects of human physical existence” way).
Not a page went by where Clarke, with her beautiful scrawl, did not mention: Eliza’s hatred for her own unborn baby, Eliza being groped or sexually harassed, Eliza thinking about the functions of her own body, or Eliza being annoyed about the body functions of the Downs Syndrome servant, Mary.
And I will say this once and for all: your reader does not need paragraphs of description for feces, especially human feces.
This is something I see in the writing of many “Dark Historical Fiction” writers, is if they run out of anything else to talk about, they go into morbid detail about bodily functions, body hair, body odors and any other weird obsessive body-related topics.
Trust me, writer, your reader does not care and does not wish to know.
On top of the weird physical aspects Clarke decided to spend great lengths of time writing in her book….there is not a single likeable character in this whole lot.
(actually, I take that back. There was a street performer who only comes in briefly. He seemed like a fairly upstanding guy. Pity he was there and then gone).
Everyone was conniving, harsh, unloving and out to protect only themselves. It set a very gloomy, dismal and dark mood over the book and left me wondering if there was even anyone left to root for.
There are glimpses of brightness in the constant-shadows of this book, but only glimpses. Eliza occasionally extends a loving hand to Mary – but it is often met with the sharpness Eliza constantly commands. Mary’s past returns in an attempt to find a happy ending, but it sours quickly.
Even the end itself attempts to make something glittering out of the mire and muck that Clarke wrote about – but when surrounded by the filthy state of the world, the constant sharpness of people and the harsh unreality of historical living, the ending feels oddly out of place.
The thing is – Clarke didn’t just write a novel grappling a dark topic in a now-foreign world. She attempted to craft a world that was so absent of light and love that it ends up draining its readers.
Not every book needs to have a constant glitter, but the fact remains that you cannot write a story that sucks all the joy and happiness out of your characters without also sucking the joy and happiness out of your readers.
Clarke wrote a book that is truly depressing. Truly unhappy. and Truly meaningless.
What point is there to reading a book if, at the end, you breathe a sigh of “thank God that is done with”? What good is there in reading a book when the kinder of characters ends up unhappy and the bitter ones end up slightly less unhappy?
What good is there in writing a book if it cannot carry a light long enough to warm the reader before the reader is once again swallowed by your book’s darkness?
This dark fiction offers not even a chance for happiness and light to exist within it. And as both a reader – and a Christian – I find it truly horrifying.
TL;DR: the book is not worth reading. find some other book written about the 1700s and an apothecary’s shop. You’ll find nothing but unhappy people, unpleasant descriptions of the human body and weird sex scenes in this one.