The Pharmacist’s Wife

Written by Vanessa Tait
Review by Lisa Redmond

The Pharmacist’s Wife is a tale of deception, addiction and revenge. Rebecca is a young wife in Victorian Edinburgh, struggling hard to behave exactly as she should. Her husband has just opened a new pharmacy and laboratory and has created a new drug which he hopes will gain him acclaim. Alexander offers her the new drug, which he has named heroin, to calm her nervous energy and headaches, and Rebecca discovers that it enables her to escape from her dull everyday. However, she becomes concerned at Alexander’s strange sexual behaviour and begins to believe that he has been unfaithful. She makes friends with Evangeline, the woman she believes to be his mistress, discovering that she too is an addict.

When Rebecca discovers the depths of her husband’s depravity and that she and Evangeline have both been dupes in his experiment, she begins to plot her revenge. This is a fast-paced tale of Victorian attitudes to women and sex. It examines the place of women in society from the housemaid to the prostitute to the angel in the house as well as the attitude and behaviour of men towards women and the growing trade in pills for every ailment, which was a feature of the Victorian age. Rebecca is a sharply observed character who journeys from blushing bride to quivering addict to strong-willed and independent woman. This is a dark tale of love and revenge, which will appeal to fans of Sarah Perry, Sarah Waters and Jessie Burton.