My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Madame X

Five words from the blurb: poverty, midwife, controversial, trust, downfall

My Notorious Life is the best 2013 release I’ve read so far. It is an atmospheric and engaging story about Axie, a midwife in 19th century New York who begins to perform abortions.

Axie has a difficult start in life. After the death of her mother she is separated from her brother and sister and finds herself working as an apprentice to a midwife. She learns the craft and begins to realise that some women face persecution, and even death, if they continue with a pregnancy. Axie begins her own clinic performing a wide range of midwifery services, but spends some of her time performing secret and controversial acts that prevent or terminate pregnancy.

The wonderful thing about this book is the sensitive way it handles such a difficult subject. It skillfully shows both sides of the abortion argument, leaving the reader to make their own judgement about what is right or wrong. Much of this book is based on historical fact and it is heartbreaking to know that so many women suffered in the ways described within these pages. I think this book will make many people look at abortion in a new light, or at least help them to realise what a difficult choice these women made – with both decisions leaving deep emotional scars for life.

The writing was wonderfully vivid and I loved the way the sights, sounds and smells were described so evocatively that the reader is made to feel as though they are there:

-It is so dark, said the Gentleman when he started up our stairs. I saw the wrinkle of his toffee nose as the smells choked him in the nostrils, the cabbage cooking and the p*** in the vestibule, the chamber pots emptied right off the stair. Mackerel heads and pigeon bones was all rotting, and McGloon’s pig rootled below amongst the peels and oyster shells. The fumes mingled with the odors of us hundred-some souls cramped in there like matches in a box, on four floors, six rooms to a floor. Do the arithmetic and you will see we didn’t have no space to cross ourselves. As for the smell we did not flinch, we was used to it.

If that’s not enough to persuade you to give this book a try then I should also add that all this is rounded off with a satisfying plot, characters you really care about, and fascinating snippets of information about life in 19th century New York. This wonderful book will appeal to a wide range of readers and I can see it becoming a modern classic.

Highly recommended.



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  1. I’m really looking forward to this one! It’s not out in the U.S. until the fall, but I’ve already pre-ordered it. Glad to see you liked it so much!

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, I didn’t realise this wasn’t out in the US yet. It surprises me that it is out over here first, especially given the fact that the author lives in New York. I wonder why that’s happened? I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

  2. Mystica says:

    I read about this book on Cornflower Books and surprisingly it was available in the library. Will be reading it this coming week. Thanks for the review.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mystica, I’m pleased that you’ve managed to find a copy – enjoy!

  3. I’ve just realized that I don’t know of many books that deal with abortion. Is it still to tabu or controversial for authors to risk tackling?

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, I hadn’t read a book that deals with it so centrally before, but then I read two in one week (Dirty Work also deals with the same subject) I assume it is still taboo, but hopefully these authors can open the discussion.

  4. stujallen says:

    sounds like a powerful book Jackie ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I’m not sure powerful is the word – the impact is more subtle than that. It is the sort of book that you end up thinking about for a long time after finishing it.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Well you definitely just sold me on this one! Probably going to preorder it so I don’t keep forgetting to buy it once it’s released here.

    1. Jackie says:

      Yay! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  6. Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out says:

    This is on my reading list for this week and I’m looking forward to it

    1. Jackie says:

      Shelleyrae, I look forward to comparing notes with you – enjoy!


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