The Nature of Monsters

Written by Clare Clark
Review by Doug Kemp

This is Clare Clark’s second novel and, like her first, The Great Stink, it is immersed in the filth, chaos and downright nastiness of a London of olden days.

Set in around 1720 the story is narrated in the first person by Elizabeth Tally, a young, attractive and determined woman who is despatched to London as a menial servant following a marital indiscretion. She is sent to the house of an apothecary, Conrad Black, and his wife and assumes that she is to have her unwanted pregnancy aborted. However, the reader is given more information than Eliza, and it is soon clear that Black’s intentions are far more malign. Eliza slowly becomes aware of what is transpiring, and her efforts to escape the Blacks’ evil machinations, together with a growing friendship for her mentally disabled fellow servant, Mary, is the core of the tale which follows.

The plot rattles along at a fine pace, and the terrors of early 18th century London are wonderfully and vividly evoked. But, occasionally the descriptions and similes are rather overwritten and stretched as if the author is trying just a bit too hard. Eliza, in her narrative, shows a depth of articulation and learning that does not seem convincing for a barely educated country lass, even with the benefit of hindsight from her more mature years. Nevertheless, this is an entertaining novel and an enjoyable read.