My thanks to Lovereading.co.uk for the opportunity to read this book in advance of publication.
Published 27 September
by Orion books
The disreputable streets of lower Manhattan, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, are brought vividly to life in this eagerly anticipated second novel by Ami McKay. Our narrator, throughout the story, is the eccentrically named Moth, a girl from the slums of Chrystie Street on the lower East side. When she is sold by her mother into servitude at the age of twelve, and after a brief period as the maidservant to a mean and vitriolic woman, Moth is lured by the prospect of good food and a feather bed, to the notorious ‘infant school’ brothel of Emma Everett. However, in the brothel, Moth exchanges one form of servitude for another, and discovers that in the dark and squalid world of prostitution, security comes with a high price to pay, and innocence is a commodity which is all too easily sold to the highest bidder.
With Dickensian precision, Ami McKay has produced a compelling and haunting novel. Her ability to invoke this dissolute period in American history is present in every word, and her captivating description of life in lower Manhattan literally leaps off the page. The sights, sounds and smells of a swarming city are described in such vivid detail that it is all too easy to imagine the grime, squalor and sheer despair of trying to survive in a world where youth and innocence is exploited at the worst level. The novel runs along at a tidy pace, there is no clumsiness within the narrative, and the use of extra snippets of historical information in the form of additional inserts in the book margins adds an interesting and informative dimension. The rich array of characters from freak show oddities, to slum house mystics, adds a fascinating insight into this crowded world of immorality, and yet it is the voice of Doctor Sadie, a character Ami McKay has based on one of her own ancestors, who lends a resonance and gravitas to this emotional story.
Without doubt, The Virgin Cure, with its charlatans and curiosities, captures the very essence of the seamier side of 1870s New York. There is something strangely repellent about the debauched world of the nineteenth century prostitute, and yet Moth’s delicate simplicity, steals right into your heart, and flutters with spirited wonder through the worst of her experiences. Overall, The Virgin Cure is an emotional and thought provoking read, and one that will remain with me for a very long time.
This will definitely be on my 2012 Best Reads list !