Title: An Almond for a Parrot
Writer: Sally Gardner
Publishing House: HarperCollins
Date of Publication: November 3rd 2016
Rating: 4 stars
‘’Alas, we players are unaware that the curtain goes up the minute we take our first gulps of air; the screams of rage our only hopeless comments on being born onto such a barren stage.’’
This novel was a severe case of ‘I fell in love with the cover and I regret nothing.’ Instant love. When I read the blurb, I thought this was a great opportunity to renew my relationship with Historical Fiction works set in the 18th century, an era when seduction, decadence, and the joie-de-vivre- way of life were at their height, an era where reforms and political unrest shaped the future of the world. Before I say anything more, I must tell you that I found this novel to an extremely interesting, memorable read. Those who consider this an ‘’erotica’’ novel really need to check their facts, I’m sorry. Yes, there are graphic sexual scenes but first and foremost there is a plot and an intriguing story to be told. I admit that I wouldn’t be caught dead with a book of the aforementioned ‘’genre’’ (?) but what I can tell you is that even those passages are written in a distinctive quality of language that reminded me of the 18th century memoir Fanny Hill by John Cleland. This is Historical Fiction, plain and simple. Nothing vulgar or dirty.
‘’So let me start, sir, before the clock runs out of hours.’’
Tully’s story begins like any good old memoir. In a prison where she is awaiting the day of judgement. And not just any prison. She’s in Newgate. It is from a cell that Tully begins our journey from her childhood under the control of a despicable man to the refuge of a ‘’fairy house’’. A story of a transformation from rugs to riches but whose ‘’riches’’ really? Can a prostitute actually have any claim on property and wealth? And what of her feelings or a change to an honest way of living? These are the questions that Tully often asks herself.
‘’Is it breeding that makes us who we are, or the muck we are born into, be that of a stable or a palace?’’
The way Gardner presents her story is very vivid, straightforward and the language is a faithful example of the 18th century English collocations. The descriptions are lavish, detailed, from the clothes to the furniture to the daily life of the upper and low classes. Most importantly, the depiction of the prejudices and the stereotypes imposed on women by their fathers and their husbands is brutally honest. This is a world where a woman has to use her body as a merchandise in order to retain or to gain some form of dignity and self-respect, to acquire the necessary means to live her life in some form of freedom, however controversial. The magical realism element is successfully woven into the story, adding an aura of mystery to Tully’s character. The only problem is that I felt it was overused in certain parts and there were moments when I just couldn’t take it seriously. Still, it created a feeling of anticipation and dread. And as for the racy scenes? Well, this is the 18th century and our main character is a night butterfly, so that’s that. In any case, you can easily skip them if they bother you.
Tully is an engaging main character. Naive, sincere, brave and unafraid of her sexuality. She tries to make her life better, using the means that are accessible at the given moment and I don’t think that the readers should judge her. We all struggle to live our lives as best as we can given the era, the circumstances and all the unpredictable factors. I refuse to judge her choices but I can definitely say that I followed Tully’s adventures with interest and curiosity.
‘’Our days are measured too often in woes and too seldom in humour, which is a pity, for what is this world if not a farce, a comedy of follies performed without rehearsal, a stage waiting for a strumpet to tell her tale?’’