Clare Clark’s novel, The Nature of Monsters, is a fantastic story set in an era of vast scientific research. Clark makes references to true scientists and organizations that revere science and research that helped define human nature. Mr. Black, the master of the house, is not one of these true scientists and he employs horrific methods to prove his hypothesis that humans are imprinted with the horrors that their mothers witnessed and/or experienced during pregnancy, all while he self medicates with an opium based tincture of his own creation.
Clark inserts historical facts into her characters lives, including references to the cesspits beneath the homes, cleanliness of the drinking water, syphilis (the French disease), opium use/abuse. Many of the sanitary references resounding of her prior novel “The Great Stink”, published 2006.
This novels centers around Eliza Tally, a housemaid bound to the Black’s through a secret agreement, as she unearths the true purpose of Mr. Black’s research and how she unknowingly participated in it with her child. Eliza’s struggle to escape the madness of the house escalates as the novel progresses and is beautifully told through a historical vantage.
Clark brings to life what was a reality for many, devoting their lives to scientific research that is not ethically or competently completed. It reminds me of when I first heard of grave robbers that used the corpses to learn anatomy, but with a very disturbing twist.
Read January 2013.