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Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen

Best Seller
Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer
Hardcover $27.95
Nov 19, 2019 | ISBN 9781101871935

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  • Oct 13, 2020 | ISBN 9780525432739

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  • Nov 19, 2019 | ISBN 9781101871935

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  • Nov 19, 2019 | ISBN 9781101871942

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“Palmer spins a cracking tale that, despite its disconcerting subject, is piquantly cheerful and compassionate . . . With empathy and imagination, Palmer explores the master/apprentice relationship, first love and first rivalry, spite and kindness: conjuring a world to raise a wry smile . . . Palmer is paying Mary the compliment of complexity . . . She is a woman whose story, both happily and unhappily, is rather more than the sum of its rabbit parts.” 
—Katharine Grant, The New York Times Book Review

“[Palmer] takes a daring narrative leap: He tells the story not from Mary’s perspective, but from the point of view of Zachary Walsh, a fourteen-year-old apprentice to the real-life figure of John Howard, a local surgeon in Godalming who helped discover Mary Toft and bring her to prominence . . . From there, Palmer’s impeccable research kicks in . . . Where there are gaps or fuzzy areas in the actual history of Mary Toft, Palmer fills in the illustration with lush detail, vivid characterization — and most importantly, philosophy . . . Epistemology is a big pill to swallow in a work of historical fiction, but Palmer coats it with sure storytelling, a compelling voice in the form of Zachary, and a gripping mystery at the core of the story . . . Palmer has always been a novelist of big ideas, and Mary Toft is his most thoughtful work yet.”
—Jason Heller, NPR
“Dexter Palmer’s Mary Toft; or, the Rabbit Queen brings the past to life with authenticity and unexpected relevance . . . A zesty blend of bawdy entertainment and thoughtful coming-of-age story, Mary Toft tantalizes the contemporary conscious as its truth-seeking characters wade through truth-defying circumstances.”
—Mari Carlson, Bookpage

Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen serves as a reminder that the issues that dictate — and sometimes define — our lives can often be as complex as the very people attempting to solve them . . . The language Palmer uses feels just as meticulous as the surgeries Howard and Zachary perform. This kind of thoughtful, detailed approach in the writing style feels necessary for a novel of such magnitude . . . I imagine the term ‘audacious’ will be used often regarding Palmer’s newest work. Such a word is certainly fitting. Dexter Palmer is a bold and daring writer, and Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen is a novel that captures his voice at its very best.”
—Bradley Sides, The Chicago Review of Books

“Vivid, sensitive . . . The novel lingers on those who are most torn; those who, like me, want to test their capacity for belief. These confused characters, especially Mary’s ‘man-midwife,’ John Howard, become vehicles through which Palmer asks the novel’s central question: Why would anyone believe a woman who claimed she was giving birth to rabbits? . . . Rather than mock John’s credulity, though, Palmer treats his “man-midwife” with respect.”
—Lily Meyer, The Atlantic

“Mr. Palmer hews closely to historical records, a reasonable decision when history is this insane.”
—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
“[A] frolicsome period comedy.”
The New Yorker

“This gripping, well-written novel is a wonder of characterization . . . Faith and science, uneducated villagers and London’s aristocratic elite, this novel plumbs the spectrum to offer an immersion in the world of the burgeoning Enlightenment. A fascinating, propulsive read from beginning to end, this is a stimulating novel of ideas and imagination.”
—Bethany Latham, Historical Novel Review
“Sharp, droll, and actually fairly profound in its observations about human experience, and the nature of belief. I can’t wait for the work day to be over so I can get back to reading it.”
—Emily Temple, LitHub
“A suspenseful, thought-provoking narrative that pairs well with dystopian fiction such as The Handmaid’s Tale.
Shelf Awareness
“A brilliant work . . . Like the historical fiction of Hillary Mantel or Caryl Phillips, Palmer does not shy away from the depravity of the past. Expertly utilizing an actual bizarre historical event to explore faith, reason, and the foundations of our current economic system, this exhaustively researched and dexterously constructed novel is another triumph to add to Palmer’s incredibly diverse corpus of works.”
Booklist (starred review)
“Palmer brilliantly fictionalizes the true story of Mary Toft . . . [He] evocatively captures the period . . . But more impressive are the novel’s inquiries into the human concerns of wonder, denial, and belief. . . Palmer skillfully and rewardingly delves into the humanity at the heart of this true historical oddity.”
Publishers Weekly
“Deft, droll, and provocatively philosophical . . . A novel that attempts to illuminate ‘the slippery nature of truth,’ when everything from God to reality is up for grabs.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A beautifully written, slyly profound meditation on perception and reality. I relished each immersive scene, each detail. I wanted to sit and discuss with the characters their beliefs about the world. Reading it, I was torn between wanting to gobble it all up quickly or savor it over time.”
—Nicole Galland, author of I, Iago

Mary Toft is wonderful! The kind of novel that you want to read and then discuss with other readers. But then Dexter Palmer is a writer like Hilary Mantel or Kate Atkinson, able to move between genres and time periods, by virtue of the almost supernatural sympathy he is able to invoke for his characters and the sense of the worlds they inhabit.”
—Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble
“Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen is provoking in ways that reach well beyond the premise, anticipating as it does our own ‘world of ash,’ with all its spectacle, factionalism, and noise. It is vividly composed and audaciously imagined, filled with characters who do battle against a world that perceives them as strange—or who, conversely, assume strangeness as a mask in order to induce the world to see them at all. It is yet another wonder in Dexter Palmer’s cabinet of wonders.”
—Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Brief History of the Dead

Table Of Contents

Chapter I. The Exhibition of Medical Curiosities. 5
Chapter II. The Royal Touch. 27
Chapter III. A Concerned Husband. 35
Chapter IV. A Birth. 43
Chapter V. Aristotle’s Masterpiece. 53
Chapter VI. Mary’s Dream. 66
Chapter VII. Foolscap. 72
Chapter VIII. Nathanael St. André. 79
Chapter IX. Confirmation of the Preternatural. 91
Chapter X. The Seat of Imagination. 97
Chapter XI. Some Unanticipated Visitors. 107
Chapter XII. The Shearing Effect. 116
Chapter XIII. The King and the Three Impostors. 125
Chapter XIV. A Strange Celebration. 139
Chapter XV. Mary’s Soliloquy. 155
Chapter XVI. Moll Flanders. 160
Chapter XVII. Dr. Lacey’s Bagnio. 168
Chapter XVIII. A Coffee House Meeting. 180
Chapter XIX. The Keepers of the Vigil. 187
Chapter XX. Sects. 196
Chapter XXI. The Proof. 205
Chapter XXII. A Principle of English Law. 209
Chapter XXIII. Leaving the Barn. 240
Chapter XXIV. Hasenpfeffer. 249
Chapter XXV. Manningham’s Plan. 258
Chapter XXVI. Transverse Presentation. 264
Chapter XXVII. Morning. 273
Chapter XXVIII. Pamphlets. 277
Chapter XXIX. Zachary and Anne. 287
Chapter XXX. John Howard Returns. 293
Chapter XXXI. Bridewell Prison. 300
Acknowledgments 313
Bibliography 315

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