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Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  1,358 ratings  ·  361 reviews
From the highly acclaimed author of Version Control a stunning, powerfully evocative new novel based on a true story—in 1726 in the small town of Godalming, England, a young woman confounds the medical community by giving birth to dead rabbits.

Surgeon John Howard is a rational man. His apprentice Zachary knows John is reluctant to believe anything that purports to exist ou
Hardcover, 319 pages
Published November 19th 2019 by Pantheon Books
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Average rating 3.78  · 
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Jessica Woodbury
4.5 stars. At first, MARY TOFT seems like a book about what happens when we are confronted with the impossible. How does one fathom it? Through science or magic or faith? But as the book goes on it becomes clear that there is more to it than what you may have first thought, and that is the very heart of it: that it took you this long to see it.

Ultimately this is a book about our appetite for depravity, our lack of empathy, our inability to treat each other as human. It is about selfishness, gree
Carolyn Walsh
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a child, I was fascinated reading about human anomalies, oddities, and the grotesque I was a fan of Ripley’s Believe It or Not books and articles, and always thought them to be factual. When I read about the woman who gave birth to 17 rabbits I was credulous, although I knew very little about reproduction.

When I read that there was a well researched historical novel based on this hoax it went to the top of my reading list. The year was 1726 in a small community in England, a woman named Mar
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shortlisted for the 2020 Tournament of Books.

It is September 1726 and Nicholas Fox’s convoy of Medical Curiosities is rolling into the village of Godalming as the sun rises. The curtains of the coaches pulled tightly shut not allowing anybody a “free” look at the curiosities.

Zachary Walsh, 14 years old and an apprentice surgeon of four months watches the convoy from his loft window, his curiosity piqued as to what lies behind all the curtains. He is distracted by a pretty young blonde girl whose
Jan 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5, rounded down.

This historical fiction, based on the true story of a woman in 1726 who claimed to give birth to rabbits is almost too odd to be believed - but reading the Wikipedia entry on her, Palmer sticks fairly closely to the known - and fairly well-documented - facts. The thing I really enjoyed and appreciated is that the book is somewhat composed as if it had actually been written back at the time it takes place, really capturing the period.

Although my well-known aversion to animal cr
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
Jan 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
This fictionalization of the real case of Mary Toft was a great read for the 2020 TOB. There were a couple of places where I thought the story wandered off a bit, but overall this is a good look at the power of faith and belief to fool even ourselves. Also highlighted here is the war between science and religion at that time, as well as the state of the medical profession which was just starting to attain some real understanding of the human body.
W.D. Clarke
Jan 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 18c-related, 2021
Dexter Palmer does an excellent job of evoking the extremity that is Georgian London ca 1726 in this fine, straightforward, but unsettling and philosophically probing novel, whose principal concern seems (to this reader, at least) to be an incessant "interrogation" (as academics in the humanities were wont to say during the heyday of postmodernism) of what passes for knowledge and truth in our world.

While not strictly speaking an allegory for these times, there are moments (such as the battling
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It took only a few pages for me to realize that this is historical fiction done right - pacing, characters, setting, plot, writing - all working in perfect concert. But it gradually became so much more as it asked so many 'why' questions of its characters and of the reader. As the characters wrestled with the meaning of belief and truth in their world, I wrestled with the same question in mine. I didn't expect this book to speak so powerfully to the political madness of Trump's America. I can't ...more
Feb 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
From the 2020 Tournament of Books, a satisfying read that uses the true story of an 18th century woman who supposedly gave birth to rabbits, to examine themes of belief, delusion and the psychology of crowds. Be warned that there’s one scene of animal cruelty that’s not gratuitous but is nonetheless disturbing.
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Intriguing. Entertaining. Original. This novel is a colorful romp, but also a fairly earnest story of the search for authenticity, substance, and meaning in the lives of its characters. Overall I really enjoyed the ride.

Dexter Palmer takes the fanciful-historic occurence of a woman reputed to have given birth to rabbits and uses it as the basis for an exploration of far more serious matters. He considers the philisophical ideals of Renaissance Humanism and that movement's own birthing of The Enl
Betsy Robinson
Apr 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
What a terrific book. Just what I was in the mood for—a good story about a woman who gives birth to rabbits, really well written, that moves at a leisurely pace to make it last, but most important, it is about something. Something big—crowd-think, group-think, whether truth is in our heads or inserted there by mass perception, crowd pressure and movement, and our fierce need to be right; it is about class and humanity, and not only is it well written but incredibly smart, wise, and knowing. This ...more
Jan 05, 2020 added it
Shelves: giveaways
First off, I won this through a goodreads give away from Alfred A. Knopf. Thank you.

I can’t give this book a star rating because it falls into the category “What in the heck did I just read”.

Aside from that it was a very well written book. And as soon as I got into it I plowed through it.


If body horror bothers you be warned before reading this.
Carmel Hanes
Jan 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The truth of the matter. Is it a thing that exists outside of our minds, waiting for us to perceive it and know it as true? Or is truth a thing that collectively resides within the minds of all men, a matter of consensus, subject to debate, subject to alteration? The world outside our minds neither true nor false, but merely there?”

These few sentences capture the essence of this odd novel, which in turn captures an even more odd (grotesque?) true event. I often scratch my head in trying to unde
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Dexter Palmer digs up an old gem of a story from 1700s England and puts his particular touch to this tale based on the real life account of Mary Toft, a wife and field laborer who appeared to give birth to several dead rabbits. Doctors of the era were at first horrified and confused, then wondered if they were witness to a miracle, then later, despite actually delivering rabbit parts from Toft, were doubtful and suspicious. They called in more doctors and Lords and Dukes and the King was even in ...more
Apr 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was fun! A wide range of well drawn characters, the woman who gave birth to rabbits, a bunch of opportunistic and gimic seeking visitors competing for the kudos of the discovery, the power of group-think and the willingness to suspend logic and sense and be bespelled by a good narrative, all this makes for a great story. John and Zachary were likeable and I was sympathetic to them. Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.
Rhiannon Johnson
Nov 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
*I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Please visit my blog for this review:

I am always looking to read something that is a little quirky, a little left of center, or weird enough that it probably won't flood the Bookstagram feed. When I read the summary of Mary Toft, or the Rabbit Queen, I thought "ding ding ding...we have a winner." A woman giving birth to dead rabbits? Yep, that's my kind of weird. Upon fu
MaryannC. Book Freak
Dec 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this slightly macabre story based on a real case, fascinating and well written, love the era of the story. Think the cover is pretty cool too but don't stare at it too long :) ...more
Dec 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating bit of historical fiction based on true events in 18th century England. Surgeon and male mid-wife John Howard has a patient who starts to birth rabbits. If you just did a double take then you understand why I had to read this book.

This anomaly, for want of a better word, attracts the attention of King George III and the woman is moved to London for closer observation. A lot of the impressions are told through the eyes of young Zachary Walsh who is apprentice to John Howard…
Nancy Oakes
Dec 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
like a 4.5

another vacation read; this one was absolutely delightful with a few rather dark and twisted moments. More to come about this book, because it really does deserve my full attention when it comes to posting. The author is a genius -- thank you, sir!!
Mar 26, 2020 rated it liked it
I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. Knowing that it’s based on a true story, I’d now like to read a non fictionalised account as the subject is intriguing and I didn’t know about it before. There’s no doubt this book is well researched but it felt didactic in places. Several chapters were only there to demonstrate the author’s knowledge of historical background rather than to progress the storyline. Initially, I assumed the author was English but quickly realised he isn’t due to his use ...more
Oct 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: True believers
Recommended to Alan by: Aerin, and previous work
Dexter Palmer's second novel, Version Control, absolutely blew me away when I read it back in March 2016. I called that one "the best book I've read all year," and it remained extremely high on that list as the year went on.

Palmer's much-anticipated third effort goes in a very different direction... and while I didn't enjoy Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen quite as much as its predecessor, I really like the way Palmer is experimenting and stretching himself with each new book. I've mentioned many
”Do you know what carrying a child inside you does to your idea of space, of what you own? Even the poorest man takes for granted that he holds clear title to the space inside his skin. Oh, but ask a man about a woman, and he’ll tell you that her body is so very different from his, that it holds empty space that stretch and hold mysteries, that measure time with strange and bloody clocks --- whose empty space are those? Who holds their precious title?

Every year I thank the Tournament of Books (T
Alison Hardtmann
Feb 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library-book
"Consider," Fox said, "the woman with child who reads. Who seeks to occupy her mind with matters of art and science at a time when she is intended to to embrace the role assigned to her by God, that of a wife, and of a mother. Who spends her days in the company of imaginary folk such as Moll Flanders and Roxana the Fortunate Mistress, while her belly swells and her needle goes neglected. Who fails to meditate on her responsibility to the new life that grows inside her. Such a woman's thought is ...more
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Perhaps they could sense that, in a room within the bagnio, the fabric of reality was slowly turning from cloth to lace, and so they found themselves drawn to a place where the truth was mutable; where, if you pushed at the facts, they would kindly move aside for you instead of pushing back”.

The more history and historical fiction I read, the more I am convinced that nothing really ever changes in human history. In Mary Toft, Dexter Palmer takes a real event from the 18th century and retells i
Oct 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Mary Toft--wife, mother, field laborer, commoner--gives birth to a rabbit. It's 1726 in the village of Godalming, England. From this small historical curio, Dexter Palmer spins the dark, piercing and engrossing novel Mary Toft, or the Rabbit Queen. While historical(-based) fiction often operates by pulling past events into the value framework of contemporary readers, in Mary Toft, Palmer places the reader firmly into a variety of value frameworks in place in 1726 England. This subtlety uncommon ...more
I can sum this novel up in 2 words - weird and wonderful! Mr. Palmer has done a lot of research for this crazy story based on true events which happened in 1726. Not only is it well written, but the characters pop off the page and you find yourself so invested in it that you can't put it down. A fantastic read and a great way to start off the new year.

With this novel, Dexter Palmer has become one of my new favorite authors and I will read anything with his name on the cover!
Historical fiction at its best. Sharp, witty, and well researched without being showy about it. I really enjoyed Palmer's previous novel, Version Control, and this book was even better. I'm down for whatever he decides to write next. ...more
Erin Glover
Feb 17, 2020 rated it it was ok
I read Mary Toft; or The Rabbit Queen because it was shortlisted on The Morning News Tournament of Books shortlist for 2020. I have no idea how it made it to this list.

I found it exceedingly difficult to stay interested in the book. There were few surprises. I found it predictable. Even the crisis and resolution that comes around the 85% point of books was easily predictable. And I don't find the fact that it is based on a true story makes it any more remarkable. I was quite simply, bored with m
Regina Lemoine
Mar 26, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. Maybe I went into this novel with my expectations set too high. I love Palmer’s novel, Version Control, which is inventive and very, very clever. This effort is fine, but it lacks the spark of that earlier novel.

I should mention that there is a relatively brief scene which describes some fairly horrific animal cruelty. I came close to DNFing the novel there, but it was short enough that I decided to continue. Nothing is overly graphic, but it’s still disturbing, albeit based on “ente
Kat  Hooper
Mar 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Feb 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: recent-reads
This book is a fictionalized account of a woman, Mary Toft, that gives birth to rabbits. The year is 1732. The doctors are all male and seem more interested in elevating their own egos rather than science.

Some of the scenes are disturbingly graphic (and not just the ones of the births). As a side story, there is a sideshow of human oddities that crosses through town right before Mary gives birth to her first rabbit. This birth and subsequent births eventually leads the good doctors investigatin
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Dexter Palmer lives in Princeton, New Jersey. His first novel, The Dream of Perpetual Motion, was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2010, and was selected as one of the best debuts of that year by Kirkus Reviews. His second, Version Control, was published by Pantheon Books in February 2016.

He holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from Princeton University, where he completed his dissertation on the

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