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March Book Club: The Lost Apothecary

March Book Club: The Lost Apothecary

March is the month for looking back at the historical, political and social achievements and struggles of women. Celebrations for Women's History Month take place throughout the month, and International Women's Day also falls on Tuesday the 8th. Therefore I could think of no better book to discuss this month than Sarah Penner’s best-selling debut ‘The Lost Apothecary’. 

Penner’s debut starts in 18th Century London, a city seething with crime, sexism and poverty. In an effort to try and reclaim what little power women were afforded at that time, the mysterious Nella opens an apothecary selling well-disguised potions. Their sole purpose: to kill the husbands, lovers, fathers and brothers mistreating their female counterparts. Women are drawn to her hidden shop in order to carve out a desperate freedom for themselves, whatever the deadly price. The conflict begins when Nella’s newest patron, a twelve year old maid buying a tincture for her mistress, makes a fatal mistake and brings the little security Nella has built crashing down around them. 

The novel then jumps to present-day London, where Caroline Parcewell, devastated from her husband's recent confession of infidelity, is walking the banks of the River Thames. There, she finds an old apothecary vial which is the beginning of her obsession with discovering the truth about the old apothecary, Nella, and the lives fatally intertwined with her hidden business. To aspiring historian Caroline, “the allure of history lay in the minutiae of life long ago, the untold secrets of ordinary people.” The novel is a treasure trove of the secret lives ordinary people have, and the struggles that go on behind every closed door.

The Lost Apothecary is not only supremely entertaining - it is choked full of intrigue, mystery and murder to boot - but also manages to unveil the hidden autonomy of women at a time when it was all too precious. As the book muses: “History doesn’t record the intricacies of women’s relationships with one another; they’re not to be uncovered.” Behind every society there is a hidden battalion of women running the show, Penner’s novel makes this obvious. Women are shown here in all their complexity: neither villains nor damsels in distress, but human beings capable of both good and evil. The story encompasses centuries yet the core struggles women must contend with remain the name: the fear and pressure of motherhood, how terrifying it is to stand on the cusp of womanhood and glimpse what lies beyond. 

Fox bought the rights to the novel to make it into a drama series, which I’m also eagerly looking forward to. The rich historical setting, the layers of secrecy and the unbreakable female bonds that lay the strong foundation of the novel all lend themselves perfectly to the small screen. We loved reading this novel this month and are so excited to discuss it with you - please tell us what you thought via social media or by commenting on this post!
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