It’s a gorgeous autumn morning, bright and crisp and promising to be a perfect fall day. Oh how I love this season, with the trees aflame with breathtakingly vivid colour, and even though I know the leaves are dying off, they have never looked more alive, which is exactly how this season makes me feel. I have a steaming cup of chai tea and a delicious Date Bar to keep me company as I think about our book club meeting yesterday.
We met to discuss Ami McKay’s The Virgin Cure, and it seemed to be a hit. It was recommended by one of the book club members who, unfortunately, was feeling too ill to come out to the meeting. Set in New York in 1871, this novel tells the story of twelve-year-old Moth Fenwick, a young girl who, from a very young age, learns that her only value is how much she can fetch for her single mother, and her options for making money are few. She is sold to Mrs Wentworth, who at first seems OK, but turns out to be a thoroughly objectionable character. She is then lured into the home of Miss Everett, a woman who runs an upscale brothel that caters to men of distinction in the community. We follow her coaching and training, and we meet Dr Sadie, who cares for Everett’s girls and makes sure they are clean and healthy. Moth and Dr Sadie form a bond, but Moth struggles when trying to decide which are the best choices to ensure an independent and happy future for herself. As most of you know if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, I dislike historical fiction mainly because it is too descriptive. I particularly dislike novels set in New York in the 1800s because there was so much poverty, overcrowding, disease, filth and general unpleasantness, which I find difficult to read because it is thoroughly depressing. So I was not looking forward to reading this novel at all, but I’m glad I was put in a position where I had no choice. I felt it really shed a light on the plight of women and girls during that period in history, where they had no rights and their only value was in their bodies and what they could offer to men sexually. My book club members also felt that they learned alot about that historical period, although one member said that McKay offered a pretty “sanitized” version of that time period (if this was sanitized, I’d hate to read about the reality!). We all thought Moth was a street-smart girl who learned very quickly what she needed to do to survive. We discussed the motivations behind the actions and choice of Mrs Wentworth and Miss Everett, as well as Nestor and Mae. We discussed Alice’s innocence, and talked about Moth’s ultimate choice of man at Miss Everett’s house, why she chose him and what motivated this decision. Someone mentioned that the gangs of boys in this novel reminded her of Charles Dickins and also Sherlock Holmes. We discussed how children had to grow up so quickly, and how short life expectancy was at that time. We discussed poverty in great detail, and talked about how difficult it is to break the cycle of poverty, but that sometimes it can happen. We also thought that the author’s personal family connections to this story were interesting and informative. It was a good meeting, and while none of us loved the book, we found it to have value mainly in the information it imparted, often in the (rather annoying!) sidebars.
That’s all for today. Get outside and enjoy the warmth of the sunshine!Bye for now…