Gulliver’s Wife by Lauren Chater: Your Preview Verdict

Gulliver’s Wife by Lauren Chater: Your Preview Verdict

Birth. Death. Wonder … One woman’s journey to the edge of love and loyalty from the bestselling author of The Lace Weaver.

Read some 5 star reviews from our Preview readers here:

This book came along at just the right time as all good books seem to do. At a time full of uncertainty, it was a relief to escape back in time to 1702 and experience London through the eyes of Mary Gulliver, midwife and herbalist. When her husband, Lemuel, being given up for dead, returns home after being away for years, I could feel the fear and uncertainty emanating from the pages as she moves through the shock of his return and the changes it brings to her life. As she navigates these troubling and desperate times, her spirit rises. “She will weather the worst with dignity and courage.” With such a strong female character at the heart of this novel, the themes of resilience and inner-strength resonate as the novel pulses with human drama. Mary is such an engaging character and the story allows us to step into the lives of women in this vivid place and time. A stellar second novel from author of The Lace Weaver, I highly recommend Lauren Chater’s novel Gulliver’s Wife to all fans of historical fiction. – Vanessa, NSW, 5 stars

When I was offered the opportunity to read a copy of Lauren Chater’s most recent novel, Gulliver’s Wife, I jumped at the chance. Although outside my usual choice of genre of Crime and Thriller, I was keen to discover a different take on a childhood favourite of mine, Gulliver’s Travels.  Chater certainly did not disappoint.  From the very first chapter you are transported to London in the early 1700s experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of a time period fraught with hardship and heartache. Chater introduces her characters in a way that leaves you emotionally connected.  Mary is the hardworking wife of the infamous Lemuel Gulliver who is presumed lost and dead at sea. She survives this tragedy and goes on to build a life for her and her children, Bess and Johnny, but this soon descends into chaos upon his unexpected return.  The remainder of this beautiful story is nothing short of an emotional roller coaster as we journey with Mary as she pursues truth, justice, love, safety and happiness not only for her and her family but for the women she so selflessly serves as a midwife. – Kylie, QLD, 5 stars

When I saw the name of the book and the  design of the book cover I was intrigued. Firstly I wondered if the book had a connection with Gulliver’s Travels and secondly the design on the cover has a swirling effect so did this mean there was a twist to this novel? Firstly this was a very easy book to read and from the opening paragraph I was drawn into the story. The characters in the book were defined clearly and in an orderly fashion which enabled you to follow the story line. You got to know the characters before a new one was introduced. Of course the main character Missus Mary Gulliver was the wife of Lemuel Gulliver from Gulliver’s Travels. As a midwife in the 1700’s Mary Gulliver was a strong person and had to overcome many difficulties to practise her profession. It was interesting to learn that midwives were licensed back in this century as they are today. Mary had great strength of character as she was a woman alone in a man’s world working and being a mother of 2 children, Bess and Johnny.  Her relationships with her 2 children were experiences that you could easily relate too. Mary’s husband returns and what a shock for the family and the turmoil it caused for Mary. Lemuel’s cousin Richard comes into the plot when he returned and you are immersed in more problems and heartache for Mary. A great read! – Dianne, NSW, 5 stars

Birth, death and the wonders in between. A great read about the roles both accepted and scorned, that women played  in the 1700’s. The historical underpinnings of  the roles the church played in the decision making that today is done by governmental departments, added to my enjoyment of the book. – Maryanne, NSW, 5 stars

Set in Wapping, a dockside town of London, in the early 1700s this is a tale of the forgotten wife of the fabled Lemuel Gulliver. Lemuel has fallen from the high status of surgeon, and returned 3 years after being presumed dead with fantastical tales bringing derision and shame on his family. During his absence Mary Gulliver has worked hard to keep her young son in school and her home from destitution by practising midwifery, a vocation whose professional  standards are set by the Church. It’s a patriarchal world in every sense and women are vulnerable, bound by proprieties, and often ‘sorely used’. When a serial rapist is at large it is only the female folk who are bound by curfew.  Mary’s teenage daughter Bess has been besotted by her father, his tales of adventure and the promise of travel. Bess has been shielded from life’s hard truths, but an encounter with the fiendish Piet Willems, her father’s friend is a dangerous eye opener. When Bess is forced into a midwifery apprenticeship, she’s rebellious but eventually comes to regard Mary with respect. Everything Mary has worked to attain is ‘in danger of being crushed under her husband’s reckless boots’. The family’s dwindling possession are pawned to feed his opium addiction. Barber surgeons are advocating the use of iron clamps as a surgical advancement for child-birthing, and to do away with midwives. It’s a precarious time to be Mary Gulliver and Lauren Chater has woven an enthralling account. – Anita, QLD, 5 stars

Lemuel Gulliver is well known to all of us in Gulliver’s Travels and the tales of Lilliput.  But, what and who did he leave at home?  Gulliver’s Wife provides that background story.  She is a midwife and very proud of her profession, and some of her struggles will resonate with nurses and midwives of today.  She is a very independent woman and determined to be self-reliant which also resonates in these days of women’s rights.  She is also the mother of teenage children and despite her best efforts, they suffer with some of the angst and difficulties that modern teenagers experience.  Chater is very clever to weave these modern themes into a story set in the 18th century and she writes with empathy.  Gulliver is thought to be dead and they had a funeral without a body some years earlier, but he arrives home unexpectedly.  This story is about what happens next and how it affects the whole family and offers some explanation of Gulliver’s stories.  Anymore, and it would be a spoiler.  The story is well written, has some gripping moments and it is beautifully researched.  I think I will sit down and read it again! – Anne, SA, 5 stars

This fabulous piece of historical fiction explores the life of Mary Gulliver, wife to Lemeul Gulliver, he of Gulliver’s Travels fame, as a woman in the 1700’s in London. First as wife to a wastral, then presumed widow as Lemeul’s ship is pronounced sunk, and then her battle to keep home and family together as Lemeul is unceremoniously returned to her fevered and raving about his experiences whilst away. Chater’s descriptions of life in 18th century London are reflective of the difficulties women faced at a time when they were considered little more than chattels, property of their husband’s.  The traumas that so many endured during childbirth and the efforts women had to go to as midwives to ensure they were not accused of witchery.  This was the time of the battle between the surgeons led by the Chamberlen’s with their new wonder instrument (obstetric forceps) and the midwives as to who was better placed to aid women in their childbed.  In this wonderfully engaging tale, Chater brings the characters in her book to life as love, loss, and life in these times magically and seamlessly interweaves fact and fiction to engage you from the first page to the last. – Marcia, SA, 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the preview copy of Gulliver’s Wife by Lauren Chater.  I knew of the original story Gulliver’s Travels and found it interesting to read what life was like for Gulliver’s wife and family. I don’t usually read historical novels set in the 1700’s preferring the 1850 to 1940’s era, however I really enjoyed it.  It was interesting to see how women were treated and had no voice, it was definitely a man’s world. London is where the story is set and the majority of the families live a meagre existence and endure a lot of financial and emotional struggles. Mary is a strong woman for her family and she empowers women along with Bess that women can look after themselves and do not need men to dictate to them. I wasn’t aware how closely entwined midwifery and herbalist were. It would be good if doctors today could include herbal remedies into their practices. An excellent read. 5 stars.  An eye opening historical tale of motherhood and midwifery set in 18th century London. – Yvette, NSW, 5 stars

Gulliver’s wife: Who is she?  Lauren Chater’s wonderfully written book lets you step back in time to the 1700s in London where we meet the main character Mary. During this era, we see Mary guide her way through an era devastated by poverty, addiction, rape, bullying, birth and death, and issues related to women having “no voice”.  Although the author does not name Gulliver’s wife in the title, throughout the book we see a massive transformation that defines Mary’s role as a strong female lead as she defies the social conventions of her time era. This is especially depicted through her role as a midwife where she has to demonstrate “to a bunch of men” the importance and relevance of having a midwife present during childbirth. Overall, a wonderfully written and descriptive book, an excellent read, Thank you Lauren.  Thank you to Better Reading for my advanced copy. – Mira, NSW, 5 stars

Oh how I savoured Gulliver’s Wife by Lauren Chater! It was like taking a long soak in a bubble bath of rich language and wonderful characters. I was torn between wanting to keep reading to unravel the mysteries of Mary and her daughter Bess, but also knowing that at some point the pages would run out and the book would be finished. In the way that Carol Duffy explores the lives of famous men in her poetry, Chater writes about the wife of Gulliver, Jonathon Swift’s 18th century traveller to the land of little people. Filled with rich descriptions of the lives of women in the 1700s, this book wrestles with the complexities of mother/daughter relationships, the powerful role of midwives as well as the themes of love, loyalty, hope and ambition. This book is a must for readers of historical fiction, or those who simply cherish a tale well told. – Amy, NSW, 5 stars

Inspired by the classic novel Gulliver’s Travels Lauren Chater transports us to the 1700s and the life of Gulliver’s wife and his family.  Obviously well researched, the reader quickly becomes involved in Mary’s life, a time when women had no rights and were completely at the whim of their husbands.  Detailing the knowledge Mary and other women had of both midwifery and the use of herbs in medicine it challenges what 21st century women expect in childbirth.  It also makes the reader appreciate just how much activists for women’s rights have gained over the years.  A very thought provoking read. – Cheryl, TAS, 5 stars

In Gulliver’s Wife Lauren Chater offers up a new perspective on the famous Gulliver’s Travels. What did the women in Gulliver’s life think of his fanciful tales and how did his return to England impact the lives they had built in his absence? A wonderfully imagined story that brings Gulliver’s family to life and really captures the essence of London in the 1700s. I loved all the historical details and the insight into midwifery practices of the time. A real treat for fans of historical fiction. – Tamarin, QLD, 5 stars

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but I do tend to pick up beautiful books and this is one such book. Mary Gulliver’s story is told with attention to detail and empathy which makes it come alive. Life in the 1700’s is hard; throw in a husband you believed dead, men of the town who disrespect women, a teenage daughter on the cusp of womanhood and a young son struggling at school and you get a glimpse in to Mary’s life.  I loved this book and gave it 5 stars. – Christina, NSW, 5 stars

I was spellbound by Lauren Chater’s storytelling abilities. Through Mary Gulliver’s life and beautiful prose, Lauren Chater shows the impossible choices that women had to make in the 18th century. Mary Gulliver is a woman with extraordinary strength. I was transported to the day-to-day of her life. I saw what she saw. I felt what she felt. Stunning book! – Aida, NSW, 5 stars


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          Publisher details

          Gulliver's Wife
          Lauren Chater
          Simon and Schuster
          01 April, 2020


          Birth. Death. Wonder … One woman’s journey to the edge of love and loyalty from the bestselling author of The Lace Weaver. London, 1702. When her husband is lost at sea, Mary Burton Gulliver, midwife and herbalist, is forced to rebuild her life without him. But three years later when Lemuel Gulliver is brought home, fevered and communicating only in riddles, her ordered world is turned upside down. In a climate of desperate poverty and violence, Mary is caught in a crossfire of suspicion and fear driven by her husband’s outlandish claims, and it is up to her to navigate a passage to safety for herself and her daughter, and the vulnerable women in her care. When a fellow sailor, a dangerous man with nothing to lose, appears to hold sway over her husband, Mary’s world descends deeper into chaos, and she must set out on her own journey to discover the truth of Gulliver’s travels . . . and the landscape of her own heart.
          Lauren Chater
          About the author

          Lauren Chater

          Lauren Chater is the author of the bestselling historical novel The Lace Weaver and the baking compendium Well Read Cookies: Beautiful biscuits inspired by great literature. She is currently working on her third novel, The Winter Dress, inspired by a real 17th century gown found off the Dutch coast in 2014. In her spare time, she loves baking and listening to her children tell their own stories. She lives in Sydney.

          Books by Lauren Chater


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