In the past: an apothecary named Nella dispenses poisons to select customers, helping women to rid themselves of men who have betrayed them. In the present: Caroline is alone in London on what was supposed to be her tenth wedding anniversary vacation until a secret of her husband’s came out. The two stories intersect in a way that changes many lives.
That is a terrible synopsis, but the GoodReads one says too much and I didn’t want to give away too many things. This is a book best left to unfurl slowly and weave itself together chapter by alternating chapter. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I chose this book as my March Book of the Month selection, whether it would step into the realm of the speculative or stay firmly in the realities of alternative medicine in the late 1700s. (Mostly the latter, as it turns out.) The book was part history, part mystery, part women’s fiction, part coming-of-age. It doesn’t really fit into a specific genre, and I loved that.
This is the first fictional book I’ve enjoyed since November. I read it slowly over a week or so, lapping up each little twist and discovery. For some reason, I’d gotten the impression that something specific was going to happen (from the description? from what BotM said in their description? from my own assumptions?) and I kept waiting for it. (It never happened. Heh.) Instead, the book went down an entirely different path than I expected, and kept me entertained and intrigued. The ending was so appropriately ambiguous that it was perfect.
The only thing that I disliked was the treatment of Caroline’s husband. He was very two-dimensional, a plot device without a real personality and whose feelings, reactions, and actions flitted around with so many random changes that it was hard to see his purpose in the book at all. With the rest of the characters drawn as vivid and real as they were, it was just this little hole in the story where something really poignant could have been, regardless of which direction/personality/actions the husband embodied.
Otherwise, though, I quite enjoyed the novel. It felt really nice to finally read something that I really loved again after soooooo many months of dry spell!