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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Life At The Bottom Of A Brutal Society

Slammerkin - Emma Donoghue

Set in London and Monmouth in the eighteenth century, Slammerkin is the story of Mary, a fourteen year old girl abandoned by her family and forced to resort to prostitution in order to survive. Be warned - it is often deeply harrowing. However, Emma Donoghue's eye for detail, coupled with her delight in language made even the darkest moments pulse with energy.

"The old man's tongue pushed past her lips as if looking for something, buried treasure. It tasted like a burnt thing. It thrashed like a dying fish and bruised the roof of her mouth. She thought she might choke."

This is an unflinching portrait of life at the bottom of a brutal society and from the first page, it's clear that things will not end well for Mary. Yet I kept on hoping until the very end, because despite all the squalor, there is so much that is life-affirming in these pages, and because the characters are so recognisably human. You feel you know them all so well and you desperately want their plans to prosper. Sadly, very few of them do.