My Notorious Life
by Kate Manning
published by Scribner
I received this book as a digital ARC from the publisher through Net Galley in return for a fair and honest review.
A brilliant rendering of a scandalous historical figure, Kate Manning’s My Notorious Life is an ambitious, thrilling novel introducing Axie Muldoon, a fiery heroine for the ages.
Axie’s story begins on the streets of 1860s New York. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day.
In vivid prose, Axie recounts how she is forcibly separated from her mother and siblings, apprenticed to a doctor, and how she and her husband parlay the sale of a few bottles of “Lunar Tablets for Female Complaint” into a thriving midwifery business. Flouting convention and defying the law in the name of women’s reproductive rights, Axie rises from grim tenement rooms to the splendor of a mansion on Fifth Avenue, amassing wealth while learning over and over never to trust a man who says “trust me.”
When her services attract outraged headlines, Axie finds herself on a collision course with a crusading official—Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. It will take all of Axie’s cunning and power to outwit him in the fight to preserve her freedom and everything she holds dear.
Inspired by the true history of an infamous female physician who was once called “the Wickedest Woman in New York,” My Notorious Life is a mystery, a family saga, a love story, and an exquisitely detailed portrait of nineteenth-century America. Axie Muldoon’s inimitable voice brings the past alive, and her story haunts and enlightens the present (from Goodreads)
I love historical fiction, women’s fiction, and books based on true stories, so It was inevitable that I would be interested in My Notorious Life by Kate Manning. While it took me a while to get used to the way it was written- journal form, with spelling and grammatical errors, I did enjoy reading this book. It went pretty quickly for me too! I immediately fell in love with Axie Muldoon, a 12 year old growing up poor on the mean streets of NYC in the 1860’s. When her mother’s health places her and her family in danger of starving, Axie, her sister Dutchie, and their baby brother Joe are sent out West on the Orphan Trains run by the Children’s Aid Society (to read about another great book based on the orphan trains click here). Axie loses her sister and brother to new families and chooses to return to New York, where she eventually becomes a servant in the house of Mrs. Evans, a reputable midwife. Axie becomes Mrs. Evans’ assistant also, and following her death, begins her own midwife practice. After years of helping both the wealthy and destitute alike, Axie believes she is helping women take a little control over their own bodies. She feels she is helping all these women, wither welcoming babies into the world, or preventing unwanted pregnancies through medicines, or, when necessary and still possible, procedures. When she is threatened with arrest and incarceration, she refuses to stop.
This book was based on the true story of Ann Trow Lohman, also known as Madame Restell- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madame_Restell.
My Notorious Life is a very well written book that gives the reader an amazing look into the lives of women in the later part of the 19th century. I would highly recommend this book, especially if you are a fan of historical fiction.
4 out of 5
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