When Addiction Becomes All Consuming – Book Review: The Pharmacist’s Wife
Love. Desire. Vengeance. A deadly alchemy.
When Rebecca Palmer’s new husband opens a pharmacy in Victorian Edinburgh, she expects to live the life of a well-heeled gentlewoman. But her ideal turns to ashes when she discovers her husband is not what he seems. As Rebecca struggles to maintain her dignity in the face of his infidelity and strange sexual desires, Alexander tries to pacify her so-called hysteria with a magical new chemical creation. A wonder-drug he calls heroin.
Rebecca’s journey into addiction takes her further into her past, and her first, lost love, while Alexander looks on, curiously observing his wife’s descent. Meanwhile, Alexander’s desire to profit from his invention leads him down a dangerous path that blurs science, passion, and death. He soon discovers that even the most promising experiments can have unforeseen and deadly consequences…
Reminiscent of the works of Sarah Waters, this is a brilliantly observed piece of Victoriana which deals with the disempowerment of women, addiction, desire, sexual obsession and vengeance.
Duffys Book Review Of The Pharmacist’s Wife
Firstly, the book cover art is amazing! The dark black illustration and the rich metallic red evoke Victorian Scotland before you even open the pages. Inside is a very detailed piece of historical fiction about a young woman called Rebecca who married for convenience and nearly paid for it with her life.
Rebecca had a childhood sweetheart named Gabriel, who was destined for big things. He went away to Egypt and didn’t return when he said he would, in fact, in Rebecca’s mind he would never return at all. After the death of her father, and living in a time where women needed to be married for financial support and roof over their head, she married an upstanding man of the community. Alexander and his business partner Mr Badcock were to open a new pharmacy, treating the locals for any manner of ailments. Alexander is very passionate about his job and has a dream of discovering a new drug and becoming rich and famous across the globe.
Alexander has a deep desire and obsession for things outside of alchemy too. Rebecca slowly begins to discover Alexanders dark secrets and heinous plan for his wife. When she challenges him, he, like many men of the era believe his wife to have hysteria and plans to treat her with this new drug. Heroin.
Vanessa Tait has researched this period in history with great dedication and detail. The first pages took a little while to get used to as the writing is in keeping with that of the time, but this helps to escort the reader back to an era which was full of life and happiness for some, yet full of misery, poverty and oppression for many. Tait also focuses on what it was like for women at the time, even those married and living in the middle classes. They had no bank account, no money of their own and controlled by the man of the house. Rebeca is told at one point that she should stay in her room and not exert herself while on her menses.
Tait takes us on Rebecca’s journey as she shed her skin of naivety and compliance to that of maturity, business savvy and defiance, which is a dangerous path to take in Victorian Edinburgh.
Pre-Order The Pharmacists Wife here and share this post with anyone who loves historical fiction
Release Date May 2018
Thank you to Allen and Unwin for a copy in exchange for an honest review.