Whorticulture – Marie-Anne Mancio

This is a very unusual book. I won it through LibraryThing’s Member Giveaway in exchange for a review; otherwise I’m not sure I would have finished it. Yet in the end I’m glad I did finish it.

The title is just what it appears to be, a play on “whore” and “horticulture”. (I’m sure there’s a word for that; conflation?) For the first part: The lives of four young women of antebellum America are highlighted, and through them the expectations and limitations of women in the time period. Four young women begin as innocents, with their own ideas of what life will be like; four young women wind up with their innocence shattered, their expectations crumpled. Life acts on these girls – rarely do any of them have the chance to take action to change their own circumstances, and when they do make the attempt it tends not to work out well for them. This is not a book of erotica, much less a romance novel – there are some scenes which border on the graphic but nothing to compare to most of what’s out there. It is more than anything a sociological study of the circumstances leading up to different forms of prostitution – by its legal definition as well as circumstantial – through four (five, in a way) separate but intersecting stories. The young bride solidly and terribly under her husband’s thumb and the young woman attempting to build a business and maintain an illicit love affair are not much better off than the actual prostitutes – “owned”, in a way, by their madams. This is one of those books which scours away all the little wishful 21st century fantasies of a simpler life in a simpler time; this is one of those books which leaves all the Happily-Ever-After endings looking kind of silly and impossible

For the second part of the title: Throughout the book is woven the language of flowers, and language relating to flowers and plants. This was obviously done very deliberately, but the intention was not so obtrusive as to be annoying.

In some ways it is not an easy read. It’s set in the present tense, which can be off-putting. And the subject matter is difficult. I don’t think it will ruin anyone’s reading experience (and might serve as fair warning) to say that the closest thing to a happy ending in this book is not very happy at all. No one is entirely good in these stories, and no one is entirely happy, even at their happiest – misery runs thick and heavy for these women. Innocence is largely a matter of ignorance, and the ignorance is massive, though short-lived. It’s fascinating to see how these girls’ lives spiral downward, and disheartening. There is a spirit and a sense of humor to the points of view which both makes it easier and makes it harder to watch. This is a book after which I didn’t much like anyone, but particularly men, and after which I probably should have reached for Winnie-the-Pooh or something equally antidotal.

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4 Responses to Whorticulture – Marie-Anne Mancio

  1. I applaud you for reading something that sounds like it was outside of your comfort zone.

  2. stewartry says:

    These advance copies are doing that to me!

  3. Candace says:

    Thanks for the link to my blog. This book sounds intriguing to me. I don’t mind a little misery in literature :)

  4. stewartry says:

    You have a beautiful blog! Heh – “a little misery in literature” fits this *perfectly*. Thank you!

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