Monday, April 15, 2013

The Apothecary (2011)

The Apothecary. Maile Meloy. 2011. Penguin. 356 pages.

I enjoyed Maile Meloy's delightfully odd historical fantasy novel, The Apothecary. The year is 1952, the Scott family is moving to London, England. Our heroine, Janie, is fourteen and not so happy about the move. At least not at first. But after a few weeks, Janie finds herself in the middle of an almost unbelievable adventure, an adventure that will lead her straight into danger, but also leading to her very first kiss.

I would have loved The Apothecary just as much if it had not turned magical or supernatural. The first half of the novel focuses on Janie's new life: her new school, her new classes and new subjects (Latin!), her friend possibilities. There are some delightfully descriptive passages that are just fun! The second half of the novel focuses on her friendship with Benjamin Burrows (the local apothecary's son). He likes to play chess in the park and "spy" on a Russian man. What he spies one Saturday, changes everything...for it leads them a little too close home!

When Benjamin discovers his father's big-big secret, a secret that Janie gets drawn into as well, the novel becomes quirky and fantastical. Danger, action, drama, mystery and a hint of first love...

Favorite quotes:
It's safe to say I was not graceful about the move to London. I was no witty, patient, adaptable Jane Austen. And if I was anything like Katherine Hepburn, it was in the scenes where she's being a giant pest. (12)
"We're looking for three hot water bottles," my father told him.
"Of course."
"And how about some chocolate bars?"
The apothecary shook his head. "We have them sometimes. Not often, since the war."
"Since the war?" my father said, and I could see him calculating: twelve years without a steady supply of chocolate. He looked a little faint. I wondered if he could get a prescription for chocolate from a doctor. Then I could have some, too. (16)

The school was in a stone building with arches and turrets that seemed very old to me but wasn't old at all, in English terms. It was built in 1880, so it was practically brand-new. (19)

Two teachers walking down the hall wore black academic gowns, and they looked ominous and forbidding, like giant bats. (19)

The school secretary, whose tight gray curls reminded me of a sheep, gave me my class schedule. (19)

"My mother said moving here would be like living in a Jane Austen novel, but it isn't really."
"But your story couldn't be Austen, with an American heroine," he said.
I couldn't help smiling at him. "That's what I said!"
"More of a Henry James novel," he said. "The American girl abroad. Are you an Isabel Archer or a Daisy Miller?"
I blushed, but told the truth. "I don't know. I haven't read any Henry James novels."
"You will soon enough," he said. "But you wouldn't want to be Isabel or Daisy. They come to bad ends, those girls. Confide tibia, Miss Scott. Far better to be who you are." (24)

The apothecary looked out at the drizzle. "It would be strange not to think about orange trees and blue sky on a day like today," he said. "No matter what powder you took."
"And my new school is pretty awful," I said.
The apothecary laughed. "The man who develops a tincture against the awful new school will win the Nobel Prize. It would be far more useful than the cure for the common cold." (30)

Read The Apothecary
  • IF you enjoy historical fiction OR historical fantasy
  • If you enjoy books about magical books
  • If you enjoy spy-adventure, action-adventure books

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Suko said...

Excellent quotes, and the story sounds wonderful! I like the idea of the apothecary, even in contemporary times.

Jill said...

I've been hearing lots of good things about this one. I hope to get to it soon!