Quick book picks for May

Only a few for this month, but a good bunch of fiction featuring some historical, some globe-spanning, and some very focused on the personal.

  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer – A bittersweet comic novel about a struggling writer who takes up invitations to strange events around the world in order to avoid his ex-boyfriend’s wedding.
  • House of Gold by Natasha Solomons – Europe poised on the cusp of World War One is the setting for this historical novel, about the Goldbaum family and how rebellious Greta attempts to reclaim her own life. Mixes the personal with the large scale history surprisingly well.
  • We Are Young by Cat Clarke – Another tense YA novel from Cat Clarke, this one focuses on how a car accident can bring various issues in a community to the forefront, from the perspective of the girl whose new stepbrother is the sole survivor.
  • The Pharmacist’s Wife by Rebecca Tait – A dark historical novel set in Victorian Edinburgh, where  Rebecca Palmer’s pharmacist husband tries to control her using heroin and manipulation.
  • Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey – This novel tells the story of a girl who goes missing and then is found a few days later, unwilling to discuss what happened. Told from the perspective of her mother, it looks at depression and how a biased viewpoint can lead to assumptions.

The Pharmacist’s Wife by Vanessa Tait

The Pharmacist’s Wife is an atmospheric piece of historical fiction about female empowerment, manipulation, and addiction, set in Victorian Edinburgh. Rebecca Palmer’s husband Alexander opens a pharmacy and dreams of dreams of success with his new chemical invention: heroin. At the same time, he claims that it is the perfect cure for Rebecca’s hysteria, but the drug reminds her of her lost first love and draws her into a friendship that will reveal all her husband’s sexual secrets. Soon, she is fighting to escape Alexander and his obsession, but her position as his wife doesn’t make things easy for her.

The novel is a gripping read, with a dark Victorian vibe that emphasises both the dangers of addiction and abusive men and the difficult position for women in various situations. Tait focuses on creating the right atmosphere rather than on overloading on historical or scientific material, as could happen in drier historical fiction. The narrative is interesting, particularly the abusive ways in which Rebecca and other women are manipulated by men for science and for gain, plying them with drugs to make them docile and easy to manage. Sometimes the time jumps in the narrative are a little disjointed, but overall it is a good read.

The Pharmacist’s Wife is a historical novel that looks at problems that are not gone today, including the disempowerment of women, drug addiction, and abuse, as well as touching on other areas like the treatment of sex workers. It is one for fans of dark Victorian fiction, particularly those who’d enjoy the genre with a very slight dash of Trainspotting.