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3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  9,309 ratings  ·  1,002 reviews
Born to rough cloth in working-class London in 1748, Mary Saunders hungers for linen and lace. Her lust for a shiny red ribbon leads her to a life of prostitution at a young age, where she encounters a freedom unknown to virtuous young women. But a dangerous misstep sends her fleeing to Monmouth and the refuge of the middle-class household of Mrs. Jones, to become the seam ...more
Paperback, First Edition, 410 pages
Published May 1st 2002 by Mariner Books (first published 2000)
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Best Historical Fiction
197th out of 4,512 books — 17,998 voters
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Best Historical Fiction of the 21st Century
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Community Reviews

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Maya Rock
Jul 22, 2007 Maya Rock rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: AMY
A slammerkin, as is noted on the cover is a loose dress, a loose woman. I love this book so much that I actually couldn't bear to read the end the first time around. Gender and poverty is really well explored. I love the way the main character becomes a prostitute--she wants to buy a ribbon, she can't afford it, so she agrees to kiss this peddler of ribbons and ends up sort of getting raped (that word just seems so harsh even though it's exactly what happened.) Everything is just perfect--that i ...more
Jun 07, 2008 Xysea rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those who enjoyed The Dress Lodger or The Crimson Petal & The WHite
Recommended to Xysea by: Bookmooch
Shelves: fiction, historical
Well, from all the books I've read about this time period, it has become alarmingly clear that a woman such as myself would not have existed back then.

Women were allowed only a few scripted roles, one of which was prostitute. For any woman who didn't find the confines of holy matrimony a sacrifice worth making, there was always the stree whore, the slammerkin, the dress lodger, the bar wench or the mistress. All were examples of the same thing; a woman who exchanged sexual relations for money an
Did you enjoy reading the book? I did enjoy some parts, off and on. That's why it got three stars.

Are you glad you read the book? No. I wish I'd spent the hours reading any other book that I've been reading.

Would you read another book by the same author? It's possible, but I think not likely.

Did you know the book was about an actual person and event? Not until I finished it and read the few pages at the end.

Do you wish you had known before you read it? It depends. If that knowledge would have ke
I was highly disappointed by this book, especially since it received some really good reviews. The writing style was fine, and Emma Donoghue painted a fairly accurate portrait of 18th century London. (These are the only things which made me give this novel 2 stars...otherwise, it would've been a 1-star book.) I thought the narrative's main flaw lay in its heroine, Mary Saunders. To me, she was very 2-dimensional: she was vain, vapid, egotistical, wholly unapologetic (about her thoughts/feelings/ ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
It's strange that when you don't like a book you can come up with a lot of reasons why, yet when I love one I just say "Fantastic. Read it." This book had a lot of ingredients for me to love, but it just fell completely flat. I felt absolutely nothing for the main character, Mary. I think that was the crux of the problem. She is just a psychopath. I mean at least give me a better reason for her to willingly give into that ribbon peddler at age 14 than she just likes colorful hair bows. What? Com ...more
Jan 12, 2014 Suzanne rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of historical fiction
Recommended to Suzanne by: $1 at library sale
“Clothes outlived people, she knew that. Clothes were more of a sure thing.”

“Slammerkin” refers to both a loose woman and a loose gown, and the sartorial is a constant motif in this story about a teen-aged prostitute named Mary Saunders in London and Monmouth, a Welsh border town, in the 1760s. There was an actual person of this name, but Emma Donoghue had only a very few sketchy facts from which she created this moving fiction that effectively illustrates that, in the mid-18th century anyway, l
Jan 29, 2008 Phil rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Historical fiction fans
This book is anti-erotica. Its about a girl who is forced into prostitution by a totally heartless world (London in the eighteeth century) and who progresses in the course of the book from an innocent to the most depraved of humanity. The story wends its way from beginning to end and is interesting and readable, but it is a crabbed view of humanity, unlightened by any hope of redemption or joy. I enjoyed reading it once but its not one of those books I will seek out again.
Laura Leaney
When I was just a young thing (when was that ever possible?) I had a near obsession with England, especially the age of Austen. It was the equipment and accoutrement of the rich that particularly fascinated me. Jane Austen probably began this, but there must have been some other source that I cannot recall. Even the poverty stricken orphans of the later Dickensian world were painted with Romance for me, because didn't some of them get found? Didn't the end turn out all right? Look at Oliver. Wha ...more
I never leave the house without a red ribbon.

Mary Saunders, the focus of Slammerkin, is thrown out
of her house after being raped for her desire for a red ribbon.

Does the red ribbon establish a kinship between Mary and
me? Perhaps. Lacking a common desire or situation, the
reader may have difficulty opening herself to a character
– in my case, the relationship between a middle-aged
librarian and a doomed teenaged prostitute.

Slammerkin places a very young woman in a desperately
poor household, where sh
Been a long time since I read a book I really liked, couldnt wait to get back to and genuinely learned something from and I got all that from this one gem..It is a dark, chilling tale of young girl whose thirst for the finer things in life lead her to the dark side as a fallen woman--but hooray prostitutes, they are the strongest, fiercest and funniest characters in the book and Doll (she reminds me of Sugar from another great book on harlots The Crimson Petal and the White) is my favorite but I ...more
This is irresistible transporting fiction. Emma Donoghhue writes a a story inspired by few surviving facts of the real Mary Saunder's life. At 14 she is thrust into the London streets by her mother and thought of as worthless trash. Mary meets so many bawdy characters like Dall one tuff talking street guide, who teaches her how to make money in the oldest profession known for survival. Mary's desire of vanity holds no bounds although she is given many chances for a fresh life she only knows one ...more
Tara Chevrestt
I read the whole thing, to my shock. In the author's defense, there was a vast and rather intriguing group of characters, but none of them were likeable. There is the bitter mother that rues the day she gave birth to a worthless girl, prostitute whose life was utterly pointless, the tailor lady that thought it ok to have a slave, the minister that was also a pimp on the side, the disloyal husband, the religious but hateful fanatic, and last, but certainly not least, an incredible spoiled brat, w ...more
"Slammerkin: a loose gown, a loose woman".

I love the concept behind Slammerkin; Donoghue has based her novel on fragments of an old news story from 1744, about Mary Suanders, a 16 year old girl who reportedly died because she had a desire for fine clothes.

Mary isn't a particularly sympathetic character; at times I wondered if she was perhaps a little mad. But given the circumstances she lives through, it's understandable if she became a bit unhinged. She's a surprisingly believable and satisfyi
Such a compelling, satisfying read! Donoghue's narrative voice is witty, idiomatic, evocative, and compelling. The psychologies of all of the characters (even some of the ones who could easily be marginal and stereotyped, like the former wet-nurse Mrs. Ash) are finely and convincingly drawn. The book has a rollicking pace without sacrificing a profound sense of the misery of human suffering and female embodiment (within prostitution, slavery, and poverty). Donoghue slyly inserts into Mary Saunde ...more
Diane D.
Must start out by saying this is the second book I've read by Emma Donoghue, and I think she is a brilliant writer.

Slammerkin was one of the darkest and saddest books I have read. The book covers 3 years in the life of Mary Saunders, and takes place in the mid 1700's in London and, primarily, Monmouth. It should also be noted that according the author's note, it is based on a real person.

Mary's home in London is one of poverty; when she finds herself pregnant and disowned by her mother and ste
I can't remember when last I so disliked the main protagonist in a book. I thought Mary was cold, cruel, vain and greedy. I'm sure this is exactly what Emma Donoghue intended, so even though this is not an "enjoyable" book, I still think it's a good book. The author also paints a vivid picture of England in the 1700's, for both urban and rural areas.

The story: Inspired by a teenage girl who murdered her mistress in 1763 because she "longed for fine clothes". Set in London and Monmouth in the la
Doug Bradshaw
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
1760s London, and Mary Saunders desires more than the meager life of her widowed mother. Her lust for ribbon, lace, and the fineries of status leads her to sell the only thing she has: her body. Donoghue is a skillful writer, and Mary's journey as a London prostitute and a country maid is gritty, dark, and depressing, but driven by Mary's vivid personality. Multiple points of view in the second half of the novel detract from Mary's story, but on the whole this is a dark but burning novel which r ...more
What a pathetic story. There are several times where it could have gotten better but didn't - to my frustration. I could not identify with the main character, or any of the characters actually. Not really additionally enlightening to the times (18th Century England), at least to me. The theme of clothes seemed a bit forced. The main draw was that the book was not difficult to read and I kept wanting to know what was going to happen next (I kept hoping the storyline would get better.) I actually ...more
Slammerkin, by Emma Donoghue, set in the mid 1700's, offers grit, gore and a very good feel for time and place. As an historical novel, it reads well, and evokes a passionate response from the reader. The heroine, Mary Saunders, is a young prostitute, forced into the trade by the vice-like reality of the time. The novel makes it abundantly clear that women of the lower economic strata of society had few options to choose from in life. Donoghue writes with clarity, urgency and purpose. I was very ...more
Renz Homer Cerillo
I am torn between 4 and 5 stars. 4.5 stars is the compromise. But that's not allowed here. So 5 stars then.

It was a roller coaster ride. It begins with the protagonist's character development which I thought was fine. It was about a 14 year old girl named Mary Saunders who grew up with a not-so-well-off family. She also has family problems since her mother and stepdad are not so fond of her. Things started to get weird when she was asked to buy something outside but then, she saw an old man sel
I honestly hate this book. I had thought I would like it as I generally like historical novels but was very disappointed after reading it. Maybe I just couldn't appreciate it because I despised the protagonist who seemed to have no sympathy, empathy, hopes, dreams, hobbies or show any emotions really (aside from prostitution, expensive fashion, lying and destroying families). Throughout the story Mary is continuously being given to, even in the beginning she didn't have too bad of a life but con ...more
Over 1/3 of my friends have this on their TBR list or have read it and this book really delivered! Great historical detail of life in London and Monmouth in the 1760s.

A couple compliments to Donoghue--first, this book was so different than Room. True, women used their bodies to stay alive but she was able to set the characters in their different time periods with language, manners, etc and have it ring true. So many writers get into a routine of writing mysteries say, or always using the same s
Fiona Southworth
My first exposure to Emma Donoghue was her novel Room. I really enjoyed Room. Which was why I was so surprised when I picked up Slammerkin. A gritty novel set in the 1800's about a "fallen woman" who dreams of a better life? Count me in. I had just finished Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber (which I highly recommend for anyone else dissatisfied with Slammerkin) and was looking for a way to break back into that world. Plus, it had a gorgeous cover. As a former design student, that's on ...more
Judi/Judith Riddle
Slammerkin is an absolutely delectable novel that takes you from the dark night time streets of London to the confines and delights of a dressmakers house in Monmouth, England, which is now in Wales.

It is based on Mary Saunders who was a real person in eighteenth century England. Little is known about this girl except from a short confession at the time of her death.

Emma Donoghue's imagination spins a fanciful tale of this young girl and her adventures in prostitution and then on to Monmouth to
To say that I "liked" this book is something of a misrepresentation. It is well-researched and well-written (which is gleefully obvious to me, having just read a lesser book), but it's hard to love and recommend a book with such an unlikeable main character. Mary Saunders is a bright young girl, living in poverty in 18th century London. Her mother encourages her to follow in her own footsteps, take up the trade of sewing, but Mary hungers for beauty, an escape from the drudgery of life in a dirt ...more
Steven Buechler
Even though the book takes place in the 1740s England, the story line could apply to anybody of Mary's age today. An educational read for me!

-page 7
"(S)he was never in a hurry to get home. If it was still light when Mary reached the family's two-room cellar on Charing Cross Road, she knew what she'd see through the low scuffed window: her mother shipwrecked in a sea of cheap linen, scaly fingers clinging to the needle, hemming and cross-stitching innumera ble quilted squares while the new baby w
I just finished this book about 15 minutes ago. Mary was a girl who wanted more out of life but was constantly reminded she was never going to be in silks as she dreamed. The trama of being thrown from her house and becoming a whore, being schooled by the unscrupulous Doll.


I do not Hate Mary. I understand how a young girl can be mentally twisted by the events in her life.
She wanted more out of life than her current station allowed.
I b
The main theme I got from this book is that ambitious women, especially women ambitious for the "finer things in life" always meet a sticky end. The themes in this book reminded me very much of Madam Bovary: vain, selfish women who crave beauty, luxury, and an exciting life who ultimately wind up worse off than they started (read: dead). Oh, I think the Awakening was like this too, except that heroine wanted, not a life of luxury, but just a life of freedom. The stories seem to warn against ambi ...more
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Mary's character 9 68 Nov 14, 2014 08:00PM  
Goodreads Ireland: February-April Quarterly Irish Read 2013: Slammerkin 28 50 Apr 25, 2013 02:35PM  
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  • The Linnet Bird
  • The Fiend in Human
  • The Fourth Queen
  • Lady's Maid
  • Passion: A Novel of the Romantic Poets
  • The Remedy
  • Affinity
  • Across the Nightingale Floor: Episode 1 The Sword of the Warrior
  • Restoration
  • The Thief Taker
Emma is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue. She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin, and in 1997 a PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of ...more
More about Emma Donoghue...
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“For all the books in his possession, he still failed to read the stories written plain as day in the faces of the people around him.” 23 likes
“The crow flew closer, as if to hear its praises.” 6 likes
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