Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen

Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen

From the highly acclaimed author of Version Control a stunning, powerfully evocative new novel based on a true story—in 1726 in the small town of Godalming, England, a young woman confounds the medical community by giving birth to dead rabbits.Surgeon John Howard is a rational man. His apprentice Zachary knows John is reluctant to believe anything that purports to exist...

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Title:Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen
Author:Dexter Palmer
Rating:

Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen Reviews

  • Matt

    Mary Toft--wife, mother, field laborer, commoner--gives birth to a rabbit. It's 1726 in the village of Godalming, England. From this small historical curio, Dexter Palmer spins the dark, piercing and engrossing novel

    . While historical(-based) fiction often operates by pulling past events into the value framework of contemporary readers, in

    , Palmer places the reader firmly into a variety of value frameworks in place in 1726 England. This subtlety uncommon

    Mary Toft--wife, mother, field laborer, commoner--gives birth to a rabbit. It's 1726 in the village of Godalming, England. From this small historical curio, Dexter Palmer spins the dark, piercing and engrossing novel

    . While historical(-based) fiction often operates by pulling past events into the value framework of contemporary readers, in

    , Palmer places the reader firmly into a variety of value frameworks in place in 1726 England. This subtlety uncommon approach fuels a singularly fresh interrogation of the sacrosanct tenets of post-Enlightenment Western culture. What is man's fundamental nature? Is faith--of any sort--actually the socially-sanctioned face of human greed?

    , asks Big Questions even as it sweeps you along with charm, humor, mystery and surprise. Its a novel you won't want to put down and won't be able to stop thinking about.

  • Cindy

    "Is truth... a matter of consensus, subject to debate, subject to alteration?" Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer (Version Control) follows a woman who, implausibly, gives birth to rabbits and who, as she struggles to control the narrative of her own body, serves as a challenge to the beliefs of a patriarchal society.

    In 1726, in the village of Godalming, England, surgeon John Howard and his apprentice, Zachary, attend to a woman giving birth. Horrifyingly, bloody rabbit parts

    "Is truth... a matter of consensus, subject to debate, subject to alteration?" Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer (Version Control) follows a woman who, implausibly, gives birth to rabbits and who, as she struggles to control the narrative of her own body, serves as a challenge to the beliefs of a patriarchal society.

    In 1726, in the village of Godalming, England, surgeon John Howard and his apprentice, Zachary, attend to a woman giving birth. Horrifyingly, bloody rabbit parts emerge instead of a child. Howard, a sensible man, can't believe what he's witnessed. And yet, he saw this event with his own eyes. Mary continues to birth rabbit pieces every few days. If "every woman carries within her the capacity to be the conduit for one of God's miracles," then it stands to reason that offspring who are less than a perfect representation of God reflect poorly on the mother's inner soul. Thus, presuming that Mary is imperfect in the eyes of God, Howard confers with London surgeons, who soon arrive with an overblown sense of their ability to "cure" her.

    Mary Toft is the subject of the story, but her voice is rarely heard. Her life and her body are contextualized by men around her, who profess an understanding that they don't have. When Mary speaks, briefly, her frustration is clear. As she says ruefully, "The spaces inside women are meant by God for so much more that women's ownership of them is clearly only ever provisional." Howard's wife, Alice, scoffs at Mary's story from the beginning, considering her "an outright fraud." Predictably, Alice's intimate knowledge of how a woman's body works is brushed aside by the surgeons who, they claim, know more about women's physiology than she does.

    The doctors bring Mary, now gravely ill, to London for observation. Their competition to explore and explain the rabbit births ignores the woman at the center. Londoners hold vigil outside her residence, excited by the freakish drama. Everyone seems more than willing to believe this impossible tale. It doesn't take long, however, for questions to arise, leading one skeptic to observe, "the false belief gains a greater purchase because of the accumulated authority of those who profess to believe, or whose silence is perhaps too eagerly read as consent." Howard, who has accompanied Mary, struggles with his involvement in this increasingly grim spectacle. He says about himself, "Something profound must happen in the mind to convince a man to distrust the common sense acquitted over decades." Sensing that Mary will be sacrificed for the surgeons' egos, he privately implores her to "shape another history.... You have that power, but only for a few hours longer.... Then all the men will enter, and we will begin again."

    This is a suspenseful, thought-provoking narrative that pairs well with dystopian fiction such as The Handmaid's Tale, and raises uncomfortable questions about women's lack of control over their bodies--which, unfortunately, seems unchanged over the centuries.

    -reviewed for Shelf Awareness 10-31-19

  • Elise Wright

    I received a copy from a Goodreads giveaway which was much appreciated!

    I was very much interested in reading about Mary Toft since this was based on her true story and this book did not disappoint. While the cover portrays a comical version of the story, it was not. A lot of points in the book genuinely did make me laugh but as far as Mary's part it was more grotesque than anything. Animal lovers beware, these aren't cute little rabbits being birthed they are dissected. There were also two

    I received a copy from a Goodreads giveaway which was much appreciated!

    I was very much interested in reading about Mary Toft since this was based on her true story and this book did not disappoint. While the cover portrays a comical version of the story, it was not. A lot of points in the book genuinely did make me laugh but as far as Mary's part it was more grotesque than anything. Animal lovers beware, these aren't cute little rabbits being birthed they are dissected. There were also two little sections that I had to skip over that had to do with fireworks in a bull and well..something to do with cats that I knew would make me sad if I attempted it. Aside from that, there are a lot of funny moments and also discussions about life and how things change. Overall, I really enjoyed it. I would just suggest skipping the main animal parts.

  • Rhiannon Johnson

    *I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

    Please visit my blog for this review:

    I am always looking to read something that is a little quirky, a little left of center, or weird enough that it probably won't flood the Bookstagram feed. When I read the summary of Mary Toft, or the Rabbit Queen, I thought "ding ding ding...we have a winner." A woman giving birth to dead rabbits? Yep, that's my kind of weird. Upon

    *I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

    Please visit my blog for this review:

    I am always looking to read something that is a little quirky, a little left of center, or weird enough that it probably won't flood the Bookstagram feed. When I read the summary of Mary Toft, or the Rabbit Queen, I thought "ding ding ding...we have a winner." A woman giving birth to dead rabbits? Yep, that's my kind of weird. Upon further research I found out that this a historical fiction novel based on real events! Needless to say I couldn't wait to get my hands on it! While the main storyline of this novel is about a woman giving birth to rabbits, the story really revolves around everyone else involved. As the story of Mary's births spreads throughout her small town and then to nearby London, more people are drawn into her circle. Characters in this novel range from a small town surgeon and his apprentice to a traveling team of performers in an "Exhibition of Medical Curiosities" to a variety of King George's agents. Their interactions show their class differences, pride, and cunning and the jabs, barbs, and stories they tell are so subtly snarky that I was laughing quite a bit. Another great layer to this novel was the vocabulary. I loved reading this on my Kindle so I could look all the words up with a touch. I loved this novel but I wouldn't recommend it to everyone.

  • Jacob Hoefer

    A tale of fraud written with such empathy and honesty it warms the heart as it disgusts, disturbs, and challenges our notion of truth. What I loved so much about this book is Dexter Palmers approach to his characters. Instead of being cynical and laughing at the fools of the 18th century, he takes a layered and in depth approach to their thinking so we believe as they do that mary toft is giving birth to rabbits.The star of the story is Mary Toft herself. Despite the story being about her she is

    A tale of fraud written with such empathy and honesty it warms the heart as it disgusts, disturbs, and challenges our notion of truth. What I loved so much about this book is Dexter Palmers approach to his characters. Instead of being cynical and laughing at the fools of the 18th century, he takes a layered and in depth approach to their thinking so we believe as they do that mary toft is giving birth to rabbits.The star of the story is Mary Toft herself. Despite the story being about her she is absent much like the literature that was printed about her at the time. The male surgeons talk about her as an object of curiosity forgetting shes human. We, the reader also slowly forget until Mary Toft speaks to us directly. It is powerful and thought provoking while being a lot of fun to read. Could not recommend it more 5/5/5/5/5/5/5/6

  • Katie

    I try to adhere to semi-strict rules about buying books for myself. There is a short list of authors who are exempt from this rule, whose newest books I pre-order as soon as it is an option. Within this there is an even shorter list (the Short Short List) of authors whose new books I will read immediately -- literally stop another book mid-sentence to read. You don't even want to know what you have to do to get on the Short Short List. You have to perform a literary miracle to my soul to get on

    I try to adhere to semi-strict rules about buying books for myself. There is a short list of authors who are exempt from this rule, whose newest books I pre-order as soon as it is an option. Within this there is an even shorter list (the Short Short List) of authors whose new books I will read immediately -- literally stop another book mid-sentence to read. You don't even want to know what you have to do to get on the Short Short List. You have to perform a literary miracle to my soul to get on the Short Short list. It is nearly impossible. It is a REALLY short list.

    Dexter Palmer's first two novels are very intelligent, very unique sci-fi, which is very much My Jam. His new novel is historical fiction set in England in the 1700s, which is not exactly my jam at all. It is also a novel ostensibly about a woman but written by a man (oof) primarily from the point of view of other men (double oof.) I was prepared for it to be extremely well written (the short list!) but not exactly my thing.

    Still, I dropped everything a picked it up immediately (the SHORT SHORT list), and I was immediately sucked in. It is witty and wry and wonderful, and I stayed up way too late way too many nights reading it because I did not want to stop. A++ historical fiction.

  • Jessica Woodbury

    4.5 stars. At first, MARY TOFT seems like a book about what happens when we are confronted with the impossible. How does one fathom it? Through science or magic or faith? But as the book goes on it becomes clear that there is more to it than what you may have first thought, and that is the very heart of it: that it took you this long to see it.

    Ultimately this is a book about our appetite for depravity, our lack of empathy, our inability to treat each other as human. It is about selfishness,

    4.5 stars. At first, MARY TOFT seems like a book about what happens when we are confronted with the impossible. How does one fathom it? Through science or magic or faith? But as the book goes on it becomes clear that there is more to it than what you may have first thought, and that is the very heart of it: that it took you this long to see it.

    Ultimately this is a book about our appetite for depravity, our lack of empathy, our inability to treat each other as human. It is about selfishness, greed, and ambition. It also dives into the many divides between us: city and country, rich and poor, man and woman.

    That sounds like an awful lot for one book, I know, but it isn't every day that a book begins with a woman giving birth to a rabbit. A dead rabbit. A not-entirely-whole dead rabbit. Our protagonist is Zachary, the teenage apprentice to the local surgeon, who is called upon to assist by Mary Toft's husband, and then is repeatedly called to do so as the strange births continue. Zachary's youth and inexperience let him have a more detached view of the situation, which grows even more unusual after the surgeon seeks assistance from other, more lofty surgeons from London.

    This is a very dark novel but it is quite aware of its own darkness. It is also quite aware of what books like this normally do and it is determined not to play by the rules. It is not a historical novel that wants to play in a new time period, instead it is a highly modern novel using a removed era to tell us an awful lot about ourselves in the present. If you are ready to let it sweep you away (and I was incredibly swept, I read it in two sittings) you will be unable to hide your eyes from its horrors and truths.

    Palmer's previous novel VERSION CONTROL was my favorite novel of 2016 and I was very excited for this book. But I approached it with some hesitation. I can be quite picky about both science-fiction and historical fiction, but it's as clear as ever that Palmer can write in any genre he chooses and I will read it. His grasp of human complexity and ability to write in a voice that speaks to me immediately have now made him one of my I Will Read Everything They Write authors. I'm thrilled to add him to that pantheon and I hope that this book opens up all kinds of new readers to just what he's capable of.

  • Dianah

    Dexter Palmer digs up an old gem of a story from 1700s England and puts his particular touch to this tale based on the real life account of Mary Toft, a wife and field laborer who appeared to give birth to several dead rabbits. Doctors of the era were at first horrified and confused, then wondered if they were witness to a miracle, then later, despite actually delivering rabbit parts from Toft, were doubtful and suspicious. They called in more doctors and Lords and Dukes and the King was even

    Dexter Palmer digs up an old gem of a story from 1700s England and puts his particular touch to this tale based on the real life account of Mary Toft, a wife and field laborer who appeared to give birth to several dead rabbits. Doctors of the era were at first horrified and confused, then wondered if they were witness to a miracle, then later, despite actually delivering rabbit parts from Toft, were doubtful and suspicious. They called in more doctors and Lords and Dukes and the King was even involved. Palmer fleshes out this story with characters that are caught in something much larger than themselves -- a real moral dilemma facing these early physicians. When it appears that careers may be destroyed and lives imploded, they are frantic to find out the truth. Palmer flexes some serious historical fiction writing chops here; exploring themes of unexplained phenomena, the pressures of public opinion, the split and intermingling of religion and science, the egregious appetite for the public display of deformity and misery, the ever present affects of class and income inequality, and the biggest question out there -- what is human? Do not miss this fascinating story.

  • Callum McLaughlin

    RTC

  • Sanjida

    Dexter Palmer is brilliant, and a must read for me. This book just makes my heart feel good. It's a philosophical meditation on epistemology set in a carefully rendered 18th century England. It's not a fantasy, but it is about fake news.

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