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Erica Eisdorfer – The Wet Nurse’s Tale

June 30, 2009

79. The Wet Nurse’s Tale by Erica Eisdorfer (2009)

The Wet Nurse’s Tale will be published on 06 August 2009 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons; you can pre-order a copy from Amazon here.

Length: 272 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 24 June 2009
Finished: 25 June 2009

Where did it come from? From the publishers, via Shelf Awareness.
Why do I have it? Another historical fiction novel that drew me in because it dealt with a subject I’d never read about.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 19 May 2009.
Verdict? Keeper.

She makes a living
with her boobs… as a wet nurse.
What were you thinking?

Summary: Susan Rose’s life has not been one filled with ease and opportunities. She’s decidedly unconventional – free-thinking and sympathetic, but not above a little scheming and sinning to get what she wants – but a plump, poor, uneducated and unmarried mother had few options in Victorian England, and so Susan, like her mother before her, makes her living as a wet nurse, nursing and caring for the babies of women too wealthy or too sick to nurse their own children. It’s not bad work, but employment is uncertain, and Susan must navigate the complicated world of the wealthy class – especially when her own child gets caught in the turmoil.

Review: There are some books you read for the story, with plots that pulls you along, full of excitement, books where you are frantically flipping pages to find out what happens next. This is not one of those books. This is a book that you read 100% for its narrator: Susan is unlike any other protagonist I’ve come across, and she quickly pulls you into her world, and you keep reading, and keep cheering for her throughout her adventures, be they big or small. She’s got her own unique outlook, one which she’s not shy about sharing with her readers, and you can’t help but get pulled into her wake as she moves through her world.

Susan, and her unique voice, is the major accomplishment of this novel, and Eisdorfer really brings her to life. I can see how some people might not care for the style of telling the entire story from Susan’s perspective, complete with her speech patterns and colloquialisms, but I thought it made the book much more engaging than had it been written from a third-person perspective. The story itself, while certainly original, is not the most compelling one I’ve ever read, and there were some elements that didn’t feel well-integrated enough to be fully believable. However, as I said, this is a book to read for the narrator, not the plot, and Susan provides more than enough personality to fill up any gaps in the story.

Also interspersed throughout the book are short interludes titled “Mrs. __________’s Reason” in which various women explain the reasons that they gave their children up for wet-nursing. And while the first one of these interludes was confusing – I was back checking names in the first chapter to figure out who was talking and what I’d missed – overall I thought they added an interesting context to Susan’s story, and since I’d never really thought all that much about the history of childcare, it helped flesh out the story and balance Susan’s story. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Readers of historical fiction are probably familiar with the concept of wet-nursing, but if they’re like me, they’ve never stopped to consider things from the point of view of the wet nurses. If for no other reason than that, this book is worth reading… plus it contains one of the most original, feisty, and memorable narrators I’ve come across in some time.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Erica Eisdorfer’s LibraryThing profile

Other Reviews: Books and Movies
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: There was snow on the ground when my time came.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2009 12:19 am

    Thanks for the link to my review! I agree – the narrator is what made this book so wonderful.

  2. June 30, 2009 8:21 am

    This sounds like a good one! A friend borrowed my copy – I want it back right now after your review.

  3. July 1, 2009 8:59 am

    Carrie – I can’t think of many other narrators with which to compare Susan in terms of attitude… maybe Jacky Faber from the Bloody Jack books?

    bermudaonion – Hee, that’s definitely happened to me… I guess that’s the danger with loaning out unread books!

  4. July 1, 2009 2:46 pm

    I went to add this to my wishlist, but it turns out I had already added it after Carrie’s review! I had forgotten about it, though, and it really sounds amazing. I have never given the history of childcare much thought either, but I bet this book will change that.

  5. July 2, 2009 11:28 am

    Nymeth – It definitely will! So much historical fiction is focused on royalty – or at least on the upper class – that it was really interesting to have an entire book from a servant’s perspective.

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