The Virgin Cure

I loved The Birth House and if you read it, then I know you did too. It was one of Heather’s Picks of the decade, shortlisted for the CBC’s Canada Reads competition and was Number One on Canada’s bestseller lists. It was compulsively readable, perfectly Canadian and totally timeless.

I was so anticipating Ami McKay’s next effort, The Virgin Cure.

I have to say, I was disappointed. I was never completely invested in Moth or the time or the story. The idea of the Virgin Cure (that having sex with a virgin would cure a man of syphilis) was touched on but never became what I assumed would be the crux of the story. It was just kind of a description of a brutal time and place for a young girl.

The beginning felt very A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to me (for the record, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my favourite books), just in terms of the New York slums and the reality of poverty at the time and how Moth’s mom does whatever she needs to do in order to get the money together for rent. But while Francie’s mom would never actually sell her children, Moth’s mother has no qualms about selling her daughter, into what was basically white slavery, to a woman with a heavy purse.

After Moth gets abused at the hands of her mistress, she escapes and is living on the street when she is saved by a girl in a fancy dress and brought to a house that turns out to be a kind of brothel, specializing in training young girls how to behave around men and then selling their virginity to the highest bidder.

Sometimes you just don’t feel it. I didn’t connect. There was a bit of a circus feel to it and I do not care for the circus. I didn’t like Water for Elephants either and I’m sure that that was down to the circus.

A lot of the book was very sad – the women dying of syphilis, the reminder that aside from marrying well there weren’t a whole lot of options open to women, how Moth’s mother sells her and then just disappears. But I didn’t feel like any of this was particularly new or surprising. I’ve read these things before.

Moth’s mother is supposed to be a Gypsy, a fortune teller and I guess one of the things that is supposed to make her story stand out is that he has all kinds of rituals that she’s picked up from her mom that she uses to get what she thinks she wants. In this new life of hers, Moth has to reconcile the things that her mother always told her (like not to sit in a bathtub) with the way things are in her new life, the necessity of passing herself off as the same as the other girls.

There’s a bit of a plot twist near the end I suppose, but by then I’d long forgotten the origins of it and it didn’t shock or surprise me, it just happened.

I wanted to love this book, I waited a long time for this book. But I’m sad to say that I just didn’t connect.

Sometimes that happens (kind of a lot this year it seems eh?).


A Red Herring Without Mustard

Have you read any of the Flavia De Luce books? You must. If you’ve never heard of them, allow me to introduce you.

The Flavia De Luce books currently consist of 4 books. I just finished the third one, A Red Herring Without Mustard. Flavia De Luce is the most delightful character I have come across in a long time and I just can’t get enough of her. She’s an 11-year-old chemistry whiz with a passion for solving crimes, which is lucky because she stumbles upon an awful lot of dead bodies for someone so young.

The third book opens with Flavia getting her fortune read by an old gypsy woman, a decidely un-Flavia activity. She ends up burning the gypsy’s tent down and offers her some part of Buckshaw (her home) to bring her caravan so that she can rest. Hours later she finds the gypsy woman beaten unconscious and so begins our mystery. Who would want to do this to an old woman? Who else knew she was here? Did it have anything to do with the disappearance of a local child a few years earlier?

As always Alan Bradley has gifted us with a plethora of sinister and hilarious characters in addition to the stock characters that inhabit Buckshaw and Bishop’s Lacey (the nearby town) but Bradley also added something different to this third installment: vulnerability. Flavia was always tortured by her older sisters, Feely and Daffy before and she gave it right back, but in this book you get the feeling that she’s starting to be upset by it. And that she’s really starting to miss and wonder about her mother who died when she was a year old.

In addition to being good old fashioned mysteries, set in a ramshackle old English house, these books are really funny. I had a smirk on my face the whole time I was reading. I burned through this one quickly too – Bradley leaves just enough of a teaser at the end of each chapter that you have to carry on.

If I didn’t want the whole set of books to match (I got the first two as paperbacks) I would run out tomorrow and buy the fourth: I’m Half Sick of Shadows.

I will just have to content myself with telling you about them in the hopes that you fall in love with Flavia and Buckshaw just as easily as I did. For your records the first two books are: The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie and The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag.

Stars: 4.5

Grade: A-