Friday 25 June 2021

The Lost Apothecary

Finished June 18
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

This is a novel of two timelines. One timeline is recent past (pre-Covid) where we have an American woman, Caroline Parcewell, who has discovered her husband's infidelity just before their planned 10th anniversary trip. They were going to London, someplace she always wanted to go, and her parents prepayed the hotel. Caroline, after confronting her husband, decides to go to London alone. 
After dropping her bags at her hotel, she heads out to a nearby pub, and gets propositioned by a man encouraging her to join a group to go mudlarking. After consideration, she joins the group and in her mudlarking finds a small glass vial with what looks like a bear on it. 
She decides to revisit her first love, history, and, on the advice of the tour leader, goes to the British Library for assistance. There she meets a map librarian Gaynor, who she connects with and the two start digging.
The other timeline is in the late eighteenth century, where a middle-aged woman Nella runs a small hidden shop in inner London where she dispenses remedies, many of them fatal, to women where the object of the dose is a man. Her story begins with a young servant Eliza looking for a potion for her master on her mistress's advice. She is a country girl, who has been educated and tutored by her mistress and has an aura of calm about her. While Nella has a bad feeling about helping Eliza, it all seems smooth, but a subsequent client is of a higher class than normal, and her situation draws unwelcome attentions that forces action.
There is an underlying theme here of the advantages that men take over women in both the past and the present, and of what control the women may have over their situation. As Caroline struggles with her feelings about her husband's betrayal, and looks to her own future, she considers her options. Nella doesn't see as many options for herself, and as we learn her backstory we see how she progressed from healer to one dispensing harm. 
I found this book really captured me and I was caught up in both stories within the novel.

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