Fleshmarket Sales

August 17, 2005

Mood: Stunned
Song: "Razzle Dazzle"

It's amazing what you can discover when Googling yourself. For instance, I discovered that a review I composed for my Young Adult Literature class was submitted to a respectable journal by another one of my profs and…PUBLISHED! 🙂 From the March issue of the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy:


Reviewed by Juliet ****, *** Arizona, USA.

The woman's screams pierce the air, rising above the doctor, spiraling past the gawking spectators, and lodging in the memory of her young son. One week later she is dead, and the family she leaves behind is altered forever. The time is 1822, and Scotland is still a barbaric place, despite the attempts of men “learned” in the arts of science and medicine to penetrate the darkness and squalor in which the masses grind out a meager existence.

For Robbie, his mother's death after complications from an operation and his father's descent into drunkenness and subsequent abandonment can be laid at the feet of one man: Dr. Robert Knox, the surgeon who mutilated his mother. In the midst of working long hours at a bakery to support himself and his sister Essie, Robbie cultivates a burning hatred for the man he holds responsible for the ruin of all his hopes. Lying down to sleep at night on his painfully narrow bed, Robbie vows retribution.

The revenge Robbie envisions begins to supplant his longing for a better life, including the education and musical training of which he believes Knox has robbed him. Robbie begins to stalk Knox, briefly spending time in jail as a result. Robbie's obsession even leads him to the machinations of Burke and Hare, two miscreant “resurrection men” who make money by selling “freshly dead” bodies of questionable origin to Knox and his medical students so the future doctors can study anatomy.

Robbie thinks he has the situation under control, but he can't suspect the truth about Burke and Hare's scheme. He is overly trusting of his new “friends,” but is Robbie also wrong about Joseph, a medical student with close ties to Knox who seems to offer both Robbie and Essie a future? When given the opportunity to destroy his enemy, will Robbie manage to discover forgiveness before his rancor consumes them all?

Despite the historical setting and the mature themes, Morgan's bildungsroman is readily accessible to modern adolescent audiences. Although most readers will not come face to face with the poverty that Robbie and Essie endure, the issues of losing one parent only to be neglected by the other will resonate. Additionally, Robbie's burning hatred and its consequences are significant issues for readers young and old. Fleshmarket is Morgan's second novel, and her description of life in 19th-century Scotland is so vivid that one can almost smell the stench of narrow, cobbled streets and taste the rough “porridge” on which Robbie and Essie subsist.

Morgan uses precise word choice to carry her message. It should be noted that certain scenes are too intense for younger readers. Early modern medicine was, after all, still primitive. Issues in Fleshmarket are far from black and white, but secondary students will be challenged to analyze characters' motives along with the moral issues raised by the text. They will readily be caught up in Robbie's strong emotional response to his situation, his family, and Knox. If Morgan's work has any flaw, it could be that the plot moves along fairly conventional lines, ending in a fashion that seems more patronizing than satisfying. However, boldly drawn characters and strong imagery make Fleshmarket historical fiction that transcends time and place. Age 14 and up.

Nicola Morgan. 2004. New York: Delacorte. 224 pp. ISBN 038573154X. US$15.95.


  1. I learned a new word today!

    One entry found for bildungsroman.
    Main Entry: bil·dungs·ro·man
    Pronunciation: ‘bil-du[ng](k)s-rO-“män, -du[ng]z-
    Function: noun
    Etymology: German, from Bildung education + Roman novel
    : a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character

  2. Congrats on getting published! It’s a fun, fun feeling. 🙂

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