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Martha Peake : a novel of the Revolution
Patrick McGrath
Adult Fiction MCGRATH

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Known as a spinner of elegant neo-gothic thrillersDthe sort full of psychological tension but narrow in scopeDMcGrath tackles a much broader canvas in his sweeping new novel about the American Revolution. At the heart of McGrath's tale are a fatherDHarry Peake, an energetic Cornwall man broken by calamityDand his daughter and helpmate, Martha. Like many of his countrymen, Harry smuggles to avoid the excise, but after a nearly bungled job, his spine is broken and he is transformed into a misshapen monster. He sets off for London with eight-year-old Martha, earning money at first by exhibiting his deformed spine and later by performing his own Ballad of Joseph Tresilian, an allegory about the king's tyranny over the colonists. Although Harry's reputation growsDenough to attract the attention of Lord Drogo, an anatomist interested in collecting rare bonesDhe succumbs to drink and far worse, endangering now teenaged Martha and forcing her to flee to her cousins in America. But it is 1774, and those cousins, living in a fishing community north of Boston, are committed patriots. Martha throws her lot in with the Americans, but her loyalty to her father threatens her and the other colonists and, finally, determines her destiny. All this is narrated half a century later by Ambrose Tree, nephew of Lord Drogo's assistant, Dr. William Tree. Like many of McGrath's earlier narrators, Ambrose is unreliable; he recounts, and embellishes, the tales his uncle William tells at night in drafty Drogo Hall. As Ambrose's questionable assumptions are proved true or false, what is betrayed is not the oh-so-familiar black heart of the narrator but the sweet heroism of the protagonists. McGrath (Asylum) takes a big risk, but the result is an invigorating take on the Revolution, just the tonic for even the most jaded reader during this election season. Agent, Amanda Urban at ICM. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

Despite the subtitle, this is not a historical novel in the conventional sense but another of McGrath's (Asylum, The Grotesque) twisted neo-Gothic tales of psychological suspense. Like all good horror stories, it opens on a dark and stormy night with narrator Ambrose Tree sitting by the fire in gloomy Drogo Hall listening to his old uncle William tell the story of Harry Peake and his 16-year-old daughter, Martha. A Cornish ex-smuggler whose spine had been crushed in a tragic accident, Harry makes his living displaying his deformity in the pubs of London. This attracts the sinister attentions of noted anatomist Lord Francis Drogo and "resurrection man" Clyte, an Igor-like dealer in fresh cadavers. When a drunken Harry brutally attacks Martha, she flees to Drogo Hall, where William, Lord Drogo's assistant, helps her to escape to the rebellious American Colonies. Obsessed with the story of Harry and Martha, Ambrose fills in the parts that his uncle omits with his own speculations (did Lord Drogo murder Harry to collect his spine?), and his narrative becomes more feverish and grotesque: "I am convinced that history can unhinge the brain, that a man may be driven mad by historyD!" Although entertaining, the novel's tricks and manipulations become a bit tedious, with a less-than-surprising conclusion that makes for a not especially satisfying read. For McGrath fans and larger collections.DWilda Williams, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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main characters Harry Peake
Horribly disfigured in a fire.

Martha Peake
Age: 18
Harry's daughter.

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