cover image Mary Toft; or, the Rabbit Queen

Mary Toft; or, the Rabbit Queen

Dexter Palmer. Pantheon, $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-101-87193-5

In this follow-up to Version Control, Palmer brilliantly fictionalizes the true story of Mary Toft, who in 1726 perplexed England when she gave birth to dead rabbits. John Howard, the only surgeon in the small town of Godalming, and his 14-year-old apprentice, Zachary Walsh, find their relatively quaint medical consults disrupted by a call from farmer Joshua Toft, who says his wife, Mary, is ready to give birth, despite having had a miscarriage fewer than six months earlier. John and Zachary are further surprised when Mary gives birth to a dead rabbit—and then another, and then another. Soon, word spreads and surgeons are sent from London to study the case. As Mary continues to give birth to a rabbit every few days, she’s brought to London for additional inspection, accompanied by John and Zachary, where the answer to the mystery finally comes to light. Palmer evocatively captures the period, from the sleepy matters of Godalming to the noise and danger of London (a violent show in a back alley is particularly memorable). But more impressive are the novel’s inquiries into the human concerns of wonder, denial, and belief. “And so I am becoming, not myself, but a mixture of the dreams of others,” Mary thinks. Palmer skillfully and rewardingly delves into the humanity at the heart of this true historical oddity. (Nov.)