Book Review: Savage Lands by Clare Clark

As previously mentioned, I recently read the novel Savage Lands by Clare Clark. I picked up Savage Lands when I was bored at work, and I didn’t put it down until the last page (practically. In reality, I did take a break to walk home and another break to take a shower, but you get the idea).

Even though I read it at a somewhat feverish pace, it’s not really a page-turner per se. Savage Lands is about two different “casket girls” who arrive in colonial Louisiana to two very different fates. The name “casket girl” refers to women shipped over from France to marry in the New World. Apparently, they got their name from the trunks (or caskets) they carried, which is not nearly as sinister as I had hoped.

Anyway, the first casket girl is a feisty bookworm named Elizabeth. She comes across as kind of a jerk – she’s a little snotty and difficult to be a true heroine – but as the book progresses, she becomes more likable. Except for one thing: she is hopelessly devoted to her handsome, charismatic, ambitious, greedy, and straight-up asshole husband.

One day, said husband brings home a stray by the name of Auguste, who had been living with the “savages.” Auguste falls in love with Elizabeth, and the three of them become this strange love triangle that feels a bit like a family and a bit like a menage-a-trois. In the interest of not giving anything away, I’ll just say this: there’s betrayal! Romance! Violence! and a lot of mud.

The second casket girl arrives years later. She has an eating disorder, but other than that, she’s kind of boring. Her entire section is far less interesting than the space devoted to Elizabeth and Auguste. But that can’t be helped.

To be perfectly honest, this book isn’t so much plot-driven as it is description-driven. There is a lot of settler porn (a phrase I hope I just made up). You know, lengthy descriptions of the newly erected towns, discussions of what they ate, details of the native/colonist relations. That type of stuff. Quite fun if you’re interested in American history, though admittedly less so if you’re bored by long passages describing much and mire. There is sort of an Edward Taylor-feel to some of the language, which I quite enjoyed. Like Taylor, Clark seems to revel in the dirt; at times, I even suspected that she must genuinely enjoy describing suffering. She certainly spends a lot of time dwelling on it.

Overall, I recommend Savage Lands and I’m looking forward to checking out some of Clark’s earlier books, one of which is about sewers (or something) and is called The Great Stink, which sounds promising.

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