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 outside the realm of logic. But even John cannot explain how or why Mary Toft, the wife of a local farmer, manages to give birth to a dead rabbit. When this singular event becomes a regular occurrence, John realizes that nothing in his experience as a village physician has prepared him to deal with a situation as disturbing as this. He writes to several preeminent surgeons in London, three of whom quickly arrive in the small town of Godalming ready to observe and opine. When Mary’s plight reaches the attention of King George, Mary and her doctors are summoned to London, where Zachary experiences for the first time a world apart from his small-town existence, and is exposed to some of the darkest corners of the human soul. All the while, Mary lies in bed, waiting for another birth, as doubts begin to blossom among the surgeons and a growing group of onlookers grow impatient for another miracle..

Mary Toft

Such conflicting feelings about this book. Entertaining at times but massively overlong. So long I began skim reading parts of it. I get the message that people are prepared to degrade themselves for what? money, fame, notoriety but some of it was very unsettling. I guess it still happens. We don’t go to the same lengths but we still love to see celebrities degrade themselves on programmes like I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. They might not be prepared to stuff dead rabbits up themselves (hopefully), but they still get showered with rats and creepy crawlies and eat kangaroo’s genitals.

In fact one wonders how far some of them would be prepared to go for fame and money. Even Big Brother and Love Island have moral messages. Do we love the contestants to win or do we cruelly want to see them fail and be ridiculed? Or just want to see them have sex on live TV? As for Naked Attraction. The lowest of the low. Or just watch Jeremy Kyle if it ever returns. The clever use these programmes to their own ends but the less clever are thrown into the arena like the bull or the ‘cat-eaters’. And anyone whoever watched The Word in the 1990’s will know just what I mean.

However, back to the book. Though well-written and thought-provoking, much of the philosophising and descriptions of London life were far too long and that is where I started skipping paragraphs. Not that much actually happens. I wanted to know more about Zachary’s relationship with Anne for instance. That was far more interesting but there was too little about it. When I knew something interesting was going to happen I skimmed to those parts.

I am in fact more inclined to give it 3.5 stars. I would give it 4 stars but I have a feeling the lengthy paragraphs may cause some readers to drop out part way through.

Many thanks to NetGalley for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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