My enormous gratitude to Alice Jolly for a copy of Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile in return for an honest review. I have been privileged to read another of Alice’s books, Dead Babies and Seaside Towns and to interview her here, shortly after I began blogging, so when Alice asked if I’d like a copy of Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile I jumped at the chance.
Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile is published by Unbound on 14th June 2018 and is available for purchase here.
Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile
If you tell a story oft enough
So it become true
As the nineteenth century draws towards a close, Mary Ann Sate, an elderly maidservant, sets out to write her truth.
She writes of the Valleys that she loves, of the poisonous rivalry between her employer’s two sons and of a terrible choice which tore her world apart.
Her haunting and poignant story brings to life a period of strife and rapid social change, and evokes the struggles of those who lived in poverty and have been forgotten by history.
In this fictional found memoir, novelist Alice Jolly uses the astonishing voice of Mary Ann to recreate history as seen from a woman’s perspective and to give joyful, poetic voice to the silenced women of the past.
My review of Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile
Whilst caring for her ill master, servant Mary Ann Sate writes her life story.
Oh! Just occasionally there comes a work of fiction that is beyond definition and beyond superlatives. Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile is one such book. It is, quite simply, exquisite. I was spellbound from the first word to the last. Alice Jolly has not written a book about Mary Ann Sate; rather she has become Mary Ann Sate and bewitched me by her writing. Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile is, in fact, not merely a work of fiction, but is a work of genius. I am not sure where to begin to review it.
When I opened the book and saw that there isn’t a single full stop in over 600 pages I was initially daunted, but the moment I started reading I found the rhythms and cadences of the writing are like a beating heart that mesmerises and enthralls and I could not tear myself away. Set out rather like a ballad or narrative poem Mary Ann’s vernacular voice is rich and vibrant. Her emotions, her life and her personality shimmer and resonate so that it is impossible not to want to read the next section and the next.
So often I was reminded of the most meritorious work of our literary heritage because Alice Jolly writes with unparalleled skill. Wordsworth’s The Prelude, the poetry of John Clare and Gerard Manly Hopkins and so many more, echo through such is the richness of Alice Jolly’s words. Every word is carefully crafted and not a syllable is extraneous to this glorious tapestry of politics, medicine, education, social history, geography and humanity. The poetic quality of the writing conveys place especially well and I loved the colloquial spellings and style.
But alongside the dazzling literary merit that underpins Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile is fabulous storytelling, wonderful characterisation and a sense of place and history that is utterly beguiling. Mary Ann’s accounts of her love for Ambrose, the brutality of her early childhood, her gradual unfolding of events and the truth all make for a compelling narrative that entertains completely. I loved finding out about life at the time from the perspective of this very ordinary, and simultaneously extraordinary, woman. I feel changed by reading about her because of her gratitude for the precious drops of joy in life. So often her words conveyed so perfectly how I have often felt but have been unable to articulate.
I think the story works so incredibly well because it has its foundations in meticulously researched historical detail and whilst everything in the book is filtered through Mary Ann’s perspective, all of the remaining characters are still completely vivid and believable. I particularly loved the comic relief so often provided Nettie and I hated Freda Woebegone with a passion that surprised me.
I’m finding it impossible to convey what an amazing book I think this is. Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile is astounding. It is literary, accessible and absorbing. I think it may be the most remarkable book I have ever read and I feel privileged to have done so. I urge everyone to read it so that their lives can be enriched as mine has been.
About Alice Jolly
Alice Jolly is a novelist and playwright.
She has published two novels with Simon and Schuster and has been commissioned four times by the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. She has also written for Paines Plough and her work has been performed at The Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden and The Space, East London. Her memoir Dead Babies and Seaside Towns was published by Unbound in July 2015 and won the Pen/Ackerley Prize. In 2014 one of her short stories won The Royal Society of Literature’s V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize.
She teaches creative writing on the Mst at Oxford University.