Friday, September 18, 2009

THE WET NURSE'S TALE by Erica Eisdorfer

The Wet Nurse's Tale
The Wet Nurse's Tale
by Erica Eisdorfer

August 6th 2009 by Putnam Adult
0399155767 (isbn13: 9780399155765)
Historical Fiction

3 of 5 stars

"There was snow on the ground when my time came"

Susan Rose is a lower-class maid in Victorian England. When she becomes pregnant by the lord's son, she escapes to London where she finds work as a wet nurse, as her mother had done before her. She moves from job to job, as she's needed, all the while commenting to the reader in dry tones about the scandals of the higher classes. When tragedy strikes, Susan has to decide if she can continue the life she's chosen, or if she must return and do her duty by her family.

Erica Eisdorfer is a fellow Duke grad, yet she works for the trade bookstore on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill. Just as Eisdorfer's loyalties are a little mixed up (ahem, Blue Devils vs. Tar Heels), so Wet Nurse's Tale, her first novel, is a mixture of well done and poorly done. In fact, the well done is so well done - warm, accessible, witty writing -  it accentuates the poorly done piece all the more.

Susan is a lower class, illiterate character. She has to hire someone to write letters for her. And yet, the tone of this first person protagonist is that of an educated gentlewoman of poor means - a slightly randy Jane Eyre, if you will. To have Susan address us as "Dear Reader" - suggesting she is herself writing the book, and therefore not illiterate - completely throws us out of the comfortable rhythm of Eisdorfer's otherwise spot-on writing.

For any mom's group who's had the breast v. bottle debate, this is fun with an open perspective that won't invalidate either side; you'll want to buy it so you can underline the bits you like. For any mom who has breastfed, this is a humorous journey into nursing during another era. And for everyone else, it's a bouncy, well-researched piece of historical fiction that's neither sentimental nor hard-nosed. Check it out from the library, especially if you're a fan of Jane Eyre.


  1. I like the premise of the book and the cover looks very like one of those romantic classic books you'll pick up. It's a combination that is hard to resist despite its flaws.

  2. I'm having a similar problem with the story I'm reading now. But instead of just one character sounding too sophisticated and out of place, every single one of them does.

    Oh wait, that's my WIP. Darn.

  3. OMG! I read the first chapter of this when it was entered into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest (I entered, too). It's gratifying to see it in print, as I found a lot of promise in it. Particularly in the authentic voice and perspective.

    I'm so glad I stumbled upon this review, Aerin. Will be sure to order.



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