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Unfashioned Creatures by Lesley McDowell

Historical fiction is a genre I particularly enjoy and the premise of this book, with its mix of history and psychology really attracted me. Set in the time when Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein was published, it tells of Mary Shelley’s real life friend Isabella Baxter Booth. 

Isabella is a social outcast after marrying her dead sister’s husband. What she thought was a good match turns into a living hell, as her husband is afflicted by fits. In these episodes, he is both physically and verbally aggressive to his wife. 

Plagued by ghosts and haunted by wicked thoughts, she struggles to keep up the running of her home, whilst trying to hide the worst of her husband from their young daughters. 

Meanwhile, in another place, burgeoning mind-doctor Alexander Balfour is trying to make a name for himself in the science of the mind. With a dark past of his own and a burning ambition that makes him arrogant and ruthless, he moves from place to place and different professional positions, leaving in his wake heartbroken patients and a string of jilted lovers. 

Inevitably, Isabella and Alexander meet, with Isabella hoping for help with her worsening husband. However it seems the fates are against her, as it seems that it is she who is to become the patient. The nature of their relationship is one of blurred lines and crossed boundaries, each with their own agenda. Will Isabella move on from the past and look to the future? And will Alexander’s ambitions blind him to the truth before his eyes? 

Set in the moody murk of 19th Century society, this is an intelligent and riveting novel of love and madness, darkness and desire. The psychological groundings are incredibly interesting. My own degree was Forensic Psychology, so I found all the scientific reference and theories fascinating. Alternating between Alexander and Isabella, you get a full sense of their characters, from their own views and from the views of each other. Their entwined stories are gripping and full of drama. 

I was avidly hooked on this story and don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this before. Rich in historical details, captivating in it’s the study of human psychology, and dramatic in its telling, Unfashioned Creatures is a decadent read for mature readers and inquisitive minds. 

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