Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen, by Dexter Palmer
In 1726, in the town of Godalming, England, a woman confounded the nation’s medical community by giving birth to seventeen rabbits. This astonishing true story is the basis for Dexter Palmer’s stunning, powerfully evocative new novel.
Surgeon’s apprentice Zachary Walsh knows that his master, John Howard, prides himself on his rationality. But John cannot explain how or why Mary Toft, the wife of a local journeyman, has managed to give birth to a dead rabbit. When this singular event becomes a regular occurrence, John and Zachary realize that nothing in their experience as rural physicians has prepared them to deal with a situation like this—strange, troubling, and possibly miraculous. John contacts several of London’s finest surgeons, three of whom soon arrive in Godalming to observe, argue, and perhaps use the case to cultivate their own fame.
When King George I learns of Mary’s plight, she and her doctors are summoned to London, where Zachary experiences a world far removed from his small-town existence and is exposed to some of the darkest corners of the human soul. All the while Mary lies in bed, as doubts begin to blossom among her caretakers and a growing group of onlookers waits with impatience for another birth, another miracle.
“This gripping, well-written novel is a wonder of characterization . . . Faith and science, uneducated villagers and London’s aristocratic elite, this novel plumbs the spectrum to offer an immersion in the world of the burgeoning Enlightenment. A fascinating, propulsive read from beginning to end, this is a stimulating novel of ideas and imagination.”
—Bethany Latham, Historical Novel Review
“Sharp, droll, and actually fairly profound in its observations about human experience, and the nature of belief. I can’t wait for the work day to be over so I can get back to reading it.”
—Emily Temple, LitHub
“A suspenseful, thought-provoking narrative that pairs well with dystopian fiction such as The Handmaid's Tale.”
“A brilliant work . . . Like the historical fiction of Hillary Mantel or Caryl Phillips, Palmer does not shy away from the depravity of the past. Expertly utilizing an actual bizarre historical event to explore faith, reason, and the foundations of our current economic system, this exhaustively researched and dexterously constructed novel is another triumph to add to Palmer’s incredibly diverse corpus of works.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“Palmer brilliantly fictionalizes the true story of Mary Toft . . . [He] evocatively captures the period . . . But more impressive are the novel’s inquiries into the human concerns of wonder, denial, and belief. . . Palmer skillfully and rewardingly delves into the humanity at the heart of this true historical oddity.”
“Deft, droll, and provocatively philosophical . . . A novel that attempts to illuminate ‘the slippery nature of truth,’ when everything from God to reality is up for grabs.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A beautifully written, slyly profound meditation on perception and reality. I relished each immersive scene, each detail. I wanted to sit and discuss with the characters their beliefs about the world. Reading it, I was torn between wanting to gobble it all up quickly or savor it over time.”
—Nicole Galland, author of I, Iago
“Mary Toft is wonderful! The kind of novel that you want to read and then discuss with other readers. But then Dexter Palmer is a writer like Hilary Mantel or Kate Atkinson, able to move between genres and time periods, by virtue of the almost supernatural sympathy he is able to invoke for his characters and the sense of the worlds they inhabit.”
—Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble
“Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen is provoking in ways that reach well beyond the premise, anticipating as it does our own ‘world of ash,’ with all its spectacle, factionalism, and noise. It is vividly composed and audaciously imagined, filled with characters who do battle against a world that perceives them as strange—or who, conversely, assume strangeness as a mask in order to induce the world to see them at all. It is yet another wonder in Dexter Palmer's cabinet of wonders.”
—Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Brief History of the Dead
Released November 19, 2019