First line: Some folks call the prize-ring a nursery for vice.
Review: I loved this book. I just loved it. The awesome is just one layer upon another: the plot is fascinating, the characters intriguing, the writing spectacular, the author's story amazing.
Shamefully, I didn't pen my thoughts back in February when I finished this, because I was just back to work from maternity leave and feeling even more sleep-lost and fuzzy-minded than I am now. But ten months later, I'm still obsessed with this book, and I hope I can convey enough of what was brilliant to entice some of you to read it.
Set in the late 1700s, the novel is split between three narrators: Ruth, daughter of a prostitute, who gains notoriety and fame as a female boxer; Charlotte, the pox-scarred wife of Ruth's patron, who takes inspiration from Ruth to find her own rough freedom; and George, friend to Charlotte's husband, and complicated third in an unusual love triangle. The voice of each character is distinct and bold, although my love is devoted to Ruth and Charlotte more than George (who is deliciously slimy at times!).
This is a book about boxing, which isn't not my thing, but don't let that scare you from this uh-mah-zing story. While Freeman doesn't soft pedal the violence of boxing, she also doesn't make it overly grotesque or gruesome; I was uncomfortable but not grossed out, and the disquieting savagery was done artfully, grounded in the story and the characters.
And the characters. I was, and am, obsessed with Ruth and Charlotte. The two women couldn't be more unalike (and occasionally, more unlikable!) but they're captivating, and reveal the rough and polished possibilities for 18th century women in London.
Freeman's narrative style is bold and full of personality (read the first chapter here), and it makes this novel so gripping. There's a rough immediacy that holds up to the crazy plot and the intense characters, but it doesn't overwhelm or detract from the story.
I could not tell anymore how much of the screaming came from my own mouth. I was borne up on the swell of it, I was the sound. We were all howling together, the poor and the quality, the boxing girl and the beast inside my breast. If she was a madwoman, then we were all of us with her, and I had never felt such savage elation, nor known that it existed.
This is a stunning debut novel, the kind of book that makes me so envious my teeth hurt, and it's a top ten read of 2015. (It might be among the ten best reads since I've started blogging, even!)
It comes out in paperback in April 2016, I believe, and you must, must get it. I'll be buying myself a copy!