Summary and book reviews of Martha Peake by Patrick McGrath

Martha Peake

by Patrick McGrath

Martha Peake
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2000, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2002, 384 pages

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Book Summary

A hypnotic tale of psychological suspense and haunting beauty. Set among the teeming streets and desolate wharves of Hogarth's London, then shifting to the powder-keg colony of Massachusetts Bay.

Master storyteller Patrick McGrath--author of the critically acclaimed novel Asylum and a finalist for England's prestigious Whitbread Prize for fiction--once again spins a hypnotic tale of psychological suspense and haunting beauty. Set among the teeming streets and desolate wharves of Hogarth's London, then shifting to the powder-keg colony of Massachusetts Bay, Martha Peake envelops the reader in a world on the brink of revolution, and introduces us to a flame-haired heroine who will live in the imagination long after the last page is turned.

Settled with our narrator beside a crackling fire, we hear of the poet and smuggler Harry Peake--how Harry lost his wife, Grace, in a tragic fire that left him horribly disfigured; how he made a living displaying his deformed spine in the alehouses of eighteenth-century London; and how his only solace was his devoted daughter, Martha, who inherited all of his fire but none of his passion for cheap gin. As the drink eats away at Harry's soul, it opens ancient wounds; when he commits one final act of unspeakable brutality, Martha, fearing for her life, must flee for the American colonies. Once safely on America's shores, Martha immerses herself in the passions of smoldering rebellion. But even in this land of new beginnings, she is unable to escape the past. Caught up in a web of betrayals, she redeems herself with one final, unforgettable act of courage.

Superbly plotted and wholly absorbing, Martha Peake is an edge-of-your-seat shocker that is crafted with the psychological precision Patrick McGrath's fans have come to expect. A writer whose novels The New York Times Book Review has called both "mesmerizing" and "brilliant," McGrath applies his remarkable imaginative powers to a fresh and broad historical canvas. Martha Peake is the poignant, often disturbing tale of a child fighting free of a father's twisted love, and of the colonists' struggle to free themselves from a smothering homeland. It is Patrick McGrath's finest novel yet.

Chapter 1

It is a black art, the writing of a history, is it not?--to resurrect the dead, and animate their bones, as historians do? I think historians must be melancholy creatures, rather like poets, perhaps, or doctors; but then, what does it matter what I think? This is not my story. This is the story of a father and his daughter, and of the strange and terrible events that tore them apart, so it is to those two unhappy souls that I would direct your gaze. As for me, I shall soon sink from sight, and you will forget me altogether. No, I am merely the one who happened upon the story, as you might happen upon, say, a cache of letters in the attic of an ancient uncle's country house; and blowing away the dust of decades, and untying the ribbon that binds them, finding within those crumbling pages a tale of passion so tragic, yet so sublime--as to transform, in that instant, the doddering relict in the bath-chair below to a spirited youth with a fiery heart and the blood of a hero ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Reading Guide
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your reading group's exploration of Patrick McGrath's Martha Peake, a gripping novel set in England and America during the tumultuous years leading up to the American Revolution. The story of a spirited young girl and her tragically flawed father, Martha Peake unfolds in a narrative that brilliantly re-creates the ominous atmosphere of a traditional Gothic tale.

Synopsis
Summoned to the gloomy, decaying Drogo Hall by his dying uncle, William, Ambrose Tree listens to William's disjointed tale of Harry Peake, a poet and performer known as the "Cripplegate Monster." Harry, his back ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

New York Times Book Review

Unusual in its method and unsettling in its focus . . . [There are] remarkable passages of sustained dramatic and atmospheric writing in which the mannered exaggerations of the style are entirely appropriate . . . An uneven novel, but it has rare qualities of power and urgency.

Library Journal

Despite the subtitle, this is not a historical novel in the conventional sense but another of McGrath's (Asylum, The Grotesque) twisted neo-Gothic tales of psychological suspense.... Although entertaining, the novel's tricks and manipulations become a bit tedious, with a less-than-surprising conclusion that makes for a not especially satisfying read.

Kirkus Reviews

Best known for such vivid and thoughtful literary thrillers as Spider (1990) and Asylum (1997), McGrath extends his range with this ambitious historical melodrama, a tale both as seductively fascinating and as ungainly as its boldly imagined antihero..... Ferociously imagined, intensely atmospheric, often powerfully compelling, but nonetheless weakened by far too many reversals, surprises, and interlocking narrative levels. Martha Peake delivers the goods, but wraps them in so much complexity and fustian that their brilliance is needlessly shrouded and muted.

Publisher's Weekly

McGrath takes a big risk, but the result is an invigorating take on the Revolution, just the tonic for even the most jaded reader during this election season.

Reader Reviews

Elizabeth

This is a fantastic book which gripped me to the end!! McGrath is a fantastic author and I am looking forward to reading his next book.

Katherine

I am an ardent reader and lover of historial, gothic novels but I was very disappointed in this book. I rarely read a novel that I don't finish, but this is an exception to that rule. I made it through chapter 20 and then shelved it. I think one ...   Read More

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