Fear the living more than the dead.
It’s London 1888, and Jack the Ripper is terrorizing the people of the city. Evelyn, a young woman disfigured by her dangerous work in a matchstick factory, who has nowhere to go, does not know what to make of her new position as a maid to the Elephant Man in the London Hospital. Evelyn wants to be locked away from the world, like he is, shut in from the filth and dangers of the streets. But in Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, she finds a gentle kindred who does not recoil from her and who understands her pain.
When the murders begin, however, Joseph and Evelyn are haunted nightly by the ghosts of the Ripper’s dead, setting Evelyn on a path to facing her fears and uncovering humanity’s worst nightmares.
I don’t recall how I came across this book, but the words “Jack the Ripper” “disfigured” “matchstick factory” and “Joseph Merrick” caught my eye as they reminded me of my favourite TV show Ripper Street. And I’m really glad I did pick it up, as like Ripper Street, its a wonderfully gritty story about the evils humans are capable of.
Kirby manages a fresh take on the Ripper tale, with the villain himself not taking the focus, placing attention of the victims instead. Told from Evelyn’s POV, A Taste for Monsters gives a voice to London’s underprivileged; unlike most works of historical fiction, the time period is not at all romanticized. This London is a dirty place where people die on the streets and discrimination is rampant.
The writing is lovely as is the attention to historical details. I really wish there had been a historical note at the end, but a quick Google search confirmed that Kirby did his research, with all the details surrounding Merrick and the Ripper victims being accurate. I also liked how some Victorian phrases were thrown in, making the story feel all the more realistic.
I enjoyed the paranormal twist, especially because it was humans, not ghosts, that needed to be feared, like in the movie Crimson Peak. The pace of the plot is perfect; quickly drawing you in with it’s bleak portrayal of London, Evelyn’s tenacity, and mystery surrounding the ghosts. Despite not being overly suspenseful, it’s impossible to put down. This was the first time I’ve ever brought a book to read in lecture, because I desperately needed to know what was going to happen next.
However, the highlight of the novel for me was Kirby’s brilliant characterization. Each character is crafted with great sensitivity and attention to detail. Dialogue and action merge together to craft highly realistic characters who grow and evolve as the story progresses. I truly wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Evelyn or Merrick and wouldn’t have minded if the book was double its size.
A Taste For Monsters is a reminder that monstrosity can be found in the most unlikely of places, but so too can humanity.