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Mrs. Caliban

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  3,330 ratings  ·  552 reviews
"She looked over to where he was, seated at the other end of the kitchen table in the light which, since his arrival, she had blocked by curtains because of his sensitive eyes. He concentrated on polishing spoons with a silver cloth: six teaspoons from a great-aunt. One leg was slung over the other, which would have looked strange enough, but he was also wearing a flowered ...more
Hardcover, 128 pages
Published January 15th 1982 by Harvard Common Press
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SP Donohue And yet the author specifically includes the scenes in the early part of the book in which Mrs. Caliban hears things on the radio that no one else is …moreAnd yet the author specifically includes the scenes in the early part of the book in which Mrs. Caliban hears things on the radio that no one else is hearing; this must have purpose. So the book is inviting us to speculate as to whether Larry is real or a fantasy. Each choice reveals something about Mrs. Caliban and about her society. We can't ultimately land on one interpretation, and neither can Mrs. Caliban, and it's this experience of going back and forth that the book seems to want us to have.(less)

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Dan Schwent
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, 2017-books
Dorthy's marriage is stagnant and falling apart when a frogman escapes from captivity. While Dorothy teaches him about the world, she winds up learning a lot of things herself...

I first learned of Mrs. Caliban on Book Riot, I think. I saw it was on sale for $1.70 earlier today and snapped it up.

It's a slim book, probably more novella than novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky, weird, sweet book. A woman falling in love with a frogman could easily be played for laughs or venture into monste
"The water ran over the sand, one wave covering another like the knitting of threads, like the begetting of revenges, betrayals, memories, regrets."

Oh, wow. This is not your average human/monster romance. I totally understand why this landed on the BBMC’s “top 20 American novels of the post-World War II period.”

From the book blurb, this seems straight forward enough: giant, frog-like male humanoid wanders into kitchen of neglected housewife. Bonking commences.

And while, yes, sure, that does
A few days ago I reviewed Bear, a book about a woman who... you know... does it with a bear. So, continuing in the theme of stories about women who take unusual lovers, I read Mrs. Caliban, which tells the tale of a woman who... you know... with a frog-man. I know, you're all questioning my morals and the condition of my soul. Don't be so quick to judge! This book is quite wonderful.

First of all, it's got a big thumbs up from deceased demigod John Updike, whose approbation probably means too muc
Justin Tate
Dec 07, 2017 rated it liked it
UPDATE: if you want to see a good unofficial movie adaptation of this novel, see Shape of Water.

Hmm... Well this was a Goodreads discovery that I'm mostly glad I picked up. The writing was great. I highlighted many brilliant passages as a testament to this. Plot-wise, I'm always a fan when weird mixes with domestic reality, and we certainly have that. I don't know that it will leave any lasting impression on me though. Fortunately as a novella it never got dull. A few segments were even great. T
Feb 14, 2008 rated it liked it
If you like avocados you will like this book.
lark benobi
In his 1986 review of this novel in the New York Times , Michael Dorris called it "a tight, intriguing portrait of a woman's escape from unacceptable reality." Maybe. But it doesn't fit into any easy box for me. It's uncharacterizeable, a perfect, unrepeatable literary expression of love and sacrifice. This was my fourth read or so. ...more
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this slender volume in an evening while my spouse was watching a Hallmark Christmas movie.


While he was vegging out to a feel-good wish fulfillment movie, I was reading a feel good wish fulfillment novel about a housewife estranged from her husband after the loss of two kids and a dog and his series of affairs, which housewife meets a frog man named Larry who escaped from a science lab where he underwent cruel tests and learned English with the help of electric shocks, so that Lar
Jessica Sullivan
Jan 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi-fantasy
I recently saw The Shape of Water and, feeling underwhelmed by the execution of its brilliant premise, figured I'd read this book that presents a very similar story.

Larry is a talking sea monster who loves avocados. (Who can blame him, honestly?) After escaping from a duo of sadistic scientists who captured him, he shows up at the door of a lonely housewife named Dorothy and reinvigorates her mundane life.

This being a slim novella, there's very little room for setup or explanation. In fact, the
Mar 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Mrs Caliban is your typical story of a housewife’s love for an enormous sea monster. Virtually ignored on its release in 1982, it was unexpectedly hailed as one of the 20 greatest post-war American novels by the British Book Marketing Council (the same people who bought us the inaugural Best of Young British Writers list).

The novel’s protagonist is Dorothy, a housewife whose marriage is failing. Her son, Scotty, died young, of complications from routine surgery, and her husband Fred is frequentl
Laurie Neighbors
Jan 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Update: Sad but of course not surprised to hear that Rachel Ingalls passed earlier this year. She was a mere mortal, but one of my favorites. Here's a lovely Longread by Ruby Brunton about Ingalls that I think you should read to honor her passing.

I read it at the yurt, under four hundred pounds of blankets, and also in some very unexpected reading positions. I laughed, until the end. And when it was done, I turned the book over and over again in my hands, looking to see if maybe there was more o
Ian Scuffling
I think this book lives in a kind of niche genre that I really enjoy—the weirdo long-dead marriage short novel. The best of this genre is surely Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters where the central conflict of the novel is the question of whether the protagonist has been infected by rabies after a feral cat she tries to feed bites her. But Rachel Ingalls surely does no damage to the form here with Mrs. Caliban.

In Mrs. Caliban, Dorothy’s dead marriage to Fred looks like a lot of fictional dead marr
Nate D
Feb 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: marriage doldrums
Recommended to Nate D by: Emilie
Being a highly lucid, revealing, and still-timely dissection of modern American society by way of unorthodox romance, this could be likened to Rosalyn Drexler's possibly even weirder The Cosmopolitan Girl. For good measure, I'm also going to shelve this with Marian Engel's Bear. But Ingall's deadly satire and impeccably pared-down narrative is all her own here. ...more
Feb 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5, rounded down. Like most people reading this in 2018, I was drawn to it by comparisons to the hit film 'The Shape of Water', since both feature romances between somewhat dowdy women and amphibious man-beasts... although I was also intrigued by it being called one of the 20 best books written since WW2. But really - this is sui generis, and I can't say I've ever read anything quite like it. One of the most fascinating aspects of the book for a contemporary reader is the world view presented f ...more
Madly Jane
A house wife with a dead son soon learns the truth about her life when she meets a green frog-like man.

This is all you need to know. Every woman, every girl should read this book. A cautionary tale on what a woman can win and ultimately lose. All women.

Masterpiece. A frigging masterpiece.
Jan 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
I was lead to this strange little novel by the movie Shape of Water which bears a similar story line. Dorothy is a repressed housewife who has given up on love when "Larry" a six foot inch frog creature walks in. In a very matter of fact way Larry and Dorothy begin an affair and he lives in a seldom used room of the kitchen and comes out when Dorothy's husband Fred leaves for work. This somewhat simple story is meant to illustrate the meaningless existence Dorothy had been living in a loveless m ...more
Will Byrnes
Nov 01, 2008 rated it liked it
A quirky tale of middle aged angst in which a woman finds a 6’7” frog in her home. She hides him, and eventually comes to love him. This is about love, marriage, getting older, disappointment, amorous adventure, isolation. A nice small tale.
Feb 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-america
When I was a freshman in college, I took an American literature class where we were assigned an Ernest Hemingway short story to read. I can’t recall the title but the story consisted of a very bland and seemingly meaningless conversation between a man and a woman in the rain. When my professor asked us what our impressions of it were I had nothing. He suggested we think about the man in the rubber raincoat and if that meant anything. Still nothing. Finally he offered that the two characters wer ...more
Feb 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Sometime after its publication David Lynch's first wife Peggy recommended this novella as a possible film subject. As much as he identified with the book ("It's about grieving") he feared that physically portraying the romance between the woman and the amphibian might provoke mood-killing audience laughter: "after all," he said, "Larry would have to be green."
Jul 07, 2017 rated it liked it
One of the strangest books I've ever had to read for class
Lolly K Dandeneau
Jul 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“She hadn’t thought she was going crazy, not straightaway. She believed it was just her own thoughts forcing themselves into low-pitched sounds and their insistent rhythm.”

In reading, I was reminded of those old black and white movies, you know the ones- King Kong with a beauty in his gigantic hairy hand, the woman passed out in the arms of The Creature from the Black Lagoon… the eroticism ever present when beautiful women are captured by the fierce terrible creatures (animal and monstrous) that
Aug 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this random Netgalley find. Presumably a classic of feminist literature/sociopolitical satire in its time, it still reads quite fresh three plus decades later and while it can be read as either of those things, it also a basic boy meets girl story. It's just that the girl in question is a lonely woman trapped in a loveless marriage and a boy is a sea monster on a lam. The best part is the absolutely matter of fact delivery of a surreal scenario and, of ...more
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-novel
Passes the suspension-of-disbelief test with flying colors, partly due to understated tone, which I always appreciate with bizarre or outlandish plots, making it all seem perfectly natural, while also reflecting numbed emotions of grieving character. And it serves to heighten tension of gradually increasing risky behavior. The ending, though, takes things up another notch or three. It surprised me at first, fairly stunned me, actually, but upon reflection, I think it not only works but is inevit ...more
Nov 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lauren by: Signature
Dorothy + Larry + Avocados = Love

What a weird little tale. Dorothy is depressed and lonely in a loveless marriage, and along comes an amphibious sea creature to save her day.

The first half of the book buzzed along, but the latter half was too muddled. Still, this was a very memorable read.
Richard Derus
Aug 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 3.5* of five (rounded up)

Review goes live September 16, 2016
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to S̶e̶a̶n̶ by: Emilie

Best to go into this one blind.
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
Dnf @ 39%. Life’s too short to read books you aren’t interested in.
Mar 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a wonderful little book that deserves to be much more than a cult classic.
Sarah Tittle
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
"Is the morning a time of festivity?" "Just the opposite," she answered, pulling the plug from the sink. "Is the dress you are wearing a garment of celebration?" "It's just my bathrobe over my nightgown."

This novella is full of such charming exchanges, as Dorothy, a homemaker—grieving the loss of a child as well as a miscarriage, and whose relationship with her husband has become moribund as a result of those losses—meets an alien creature who looks like a nearly 7' lizard. She names him Larry.
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"At the Institute, they said I was a different species. Even Professor Dexter said it. So we might not mix."

"That doesn't surprise me. They didn't like you and they treated you shamefully. They'd want an excuse. For centuries, people like that kept saying women didn't have souls. And nearly everyone still believes it. Same thing."

"The soul I know about. Professor Dexter was very interested in that. He said it was the reason why he chose to study science."

"I knew a girl once," Dorothy said, "wh
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kate by: Will Schwalbe
Shelves: 2018-books
A group of Booktopians were eating dinner with Will Shwalbe so of course we talked about what were reading. Mrs. Caliban was his current read and he was enjoying it. Described as a perfect novel, this is the story of Dorothy, who seemingly seems happy, but in reality is stuck. Stuck in her marriage, stuck in her grief over the loss of her son, stuck at home, missing a career. She befriends a lizard-like creature who moves into her spare bedroom and changes her life. I liked it a lot and recommen ...more
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Rachel Ingalls grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She held various jobs, from theatre dresser and librarian to publisher’s reader. She was a confirmed radio and film addict and started living in London in 1965. She authored several works of fiction—most notably Mrs. Caliban—published in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

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“Why do you call him a monster?”
“Well, an eight-foot tall green gorilla with web feet and bug eyes—what would you call him? A well-developed frog? Not exactly an Ivy-league type, anyway.’”
“I’ve met plenty of Ivy-leaguers I’d call monsters.”
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