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Book Review: Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper (the true story of the resurrection of Anne Green)

 Book Review: Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper (the true story of the resurrection of Anne Green)

Anne Green has been been found guilty of infanticide and of unlawful fornication. Per her sentence, she has been hanged. Not to death, however, contrary to the judges orders, but to somewhere in between. So'to where, exactly?

When we first meet'Anne she is lying immobile, senseless, and lost in darkness. Is she dead? Has she been cast into purgatory? Or has she been somehow wrenched back from the brink of eternity? The answer, in a way, is all three.

Newes from the Dead is based on the true case of Anne Green, who in 1650 was hanged, pronounced dead, and was subsequently revived. Its a controversial story for many reasons, and the sheer grotesquery of it is perhaps only the least of it. In Mary Hoopers capable hands, Annes story and the tangle of class, gender, and ethical issues entwined around it are teased out in compelling, thoughtful manner, and one that will no doubt invite plenty of discussion.

The story is written from two parallel perspectives: that of Anne reliving the events that led up to her hanging, and that of timid medical student Robert Matthews, who is presiding over the dissection of Annes corpse. Often such an approach can be problematic, but its well utilised here, allowing Hooper to examine and critique the often morally infused perceptions of the medical community in such a situation, as well as reiterating the sheer voicelessness of women during this time period. In death, as in life, Anne is subject to the whims of a group of middle- and upper-class men.

To these men, Anne is not a person: she is simply a body. Anne Greenwould presently be sawn, dismembered, divided, cut, pared, sliced, peeled and flayed. No part of her would go untouched, unseen or unrecorded, muses Robert as he watches over the still form of Anne. Anne, after all, is not just a woman, but shes a woman who belongs to the lower class. As such, shes doubly presided over by these privileged men. As servant Martha says:'Its always someone poor they cuts to piecesthe'gentry dont get flayed! Dont they ever commit murder? I vow they do! Robert, too, acknowledges that the bodies granted for dissection were always those of the lower class.

Of course, if Anne werent a lower class female, she might not even be in this situation in the first place. As Dr Wilton, who is about as egalitarian as a man of his station and time is likely to be, says:'Infanticide is a cruel law which only applies to the lower classeswhen was one of the aristocracy last hanged for such a crime? As it turns out, Anne isnt guilty of infanticide at all, but thats by the by. Whore, murderess much the same thing.though this one here is very pretty, by all accounts, says one of the men. Another adds,'the new laws state that fornication may be an offence punishably by death, so the jade has got what she deserved. To which Wilton points out: But who was it that she fornicated with? Should he not also be culpable?

As we slowly learn how Anne came to be where she is, we learn just how fraught it is to be a young, pretty girl in her station. Even the smallest act can be taken as something much more:'I offered to hear his palmbut telling palms meant that I had to hold his hand, and Susan came upon me doing thisshe recounts at one point. Actions such as these lead the household staff to slowly turn upon her, and when her affair with the master of the house is found out, particularly given its circumstances, theres no sympathy for Anne.'I have heard of maidservants that are bold enough to slap a man even a gentleman for getting too familiar, but I didnt. Instead I am ashamed to say that I stayed to hear more.

The consequences that arise are almost unfathomable. Poor Anne is horribly prescient when she muses, the first act in the sewing room was over very quickly, leaving me to ponder afterwards how such a small and strange act could be so very important and worth so much. Because for everyone else around her, it truly is so. The word of a man against her, her own lowly station these are enough to see her condemned.

But what follows is an awful, voyeuristic production. Anne is a spectacle, but a voiceless one, for her own words are worthless in the eyes of the law and in society. Shes a marionette for others entertainment. When on trial, she thinks:'in this room were a great many seats and benches, and on these a number of people were seated. Ive seen pictures of a play performed in a theatre and it reminded me something of this And of course, this scenario plays out after her death, too, with others speaking of her and for her while she remains mute and paralysed on the morgue bench.

Hooper beautifully teases out the irony of what follows, because it is, of course, a discussion of whether Anne should be helped back to life, or whether she should be put, as she should have been, properly to death.'Hold, I say. That woman belongs to God, and God alone! You will not take her back from him! says the Puritan character, when a doctor suggests that they might intervene a little? Assist nature? Modern day readers will marvel at a society that can hang its own for small misdemeanours and can then turn around and suggest that offering succour is meddling in the ways of God.'I wonder if that would be ethical, Dr Willis says. Isnt the Puritan correct? Wouldnt anything we do be deemed as interfering with the will of God?

The contradiction is bitingly humorous when the Puritan says: Every man has a time to be born and a time to die. It is not meant to interfere with the holy scheme of things. Man should not be raised again. Indeed. Because no one of great importance to Christianity has ever been killed and then resurrected from the dead

But this is a society whose obsessions with death, morality, and sexuality work together in terrible, disturbing ways. Its impossible not to mention the'description of the hanging, an event that is eerily eroticised and which points to the issues of deep-rooted sexual repression.'The hanging of Anne Green had been different, for the girl had been young and comely. Shapely, too, as the crowd had seen, for after taking off her gown and cloak and bequeathing them to her mother, Mistress Green had faced the cold and driving rain wearing just her undershiftthe men in the crowd had hardly known what attitude to take, wanting to show a seriousness but having a lusty curiosity for such a well-shaped young body.

Newes from the Dead is somehow caustic, wry and warm, and its testament to Hoopers skill that she can take a story where the ending is known from its first pages and work it into something that remains fascinating and compelling throughout. There are a couple of missteps: this is a book thats focused very much on Annes death and resuscitation, so what we do see of her life after that feels a little rushed and slightly out of place. The character of Robert, too, dwindles away quite surprisingly for someone who has played such a significant role in the book.

I did have a final gripe about a certain character upon whom it seems that divine justice is meted, in my mind unrealistically, and yet, from the authors historical note, it appears that this is entirely based on fact. Its probably a good elucidation of the themes of the entire book. Everything here is a curious case of truth being stranger than fiction. Readers are blinkered by the stories, and the boundaries of these stories, that we think are being told rather than the ones that really are being told.

'Rating: star Book Review: Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper (the true story of the resurrection of Anne Green)star Book Review: Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper (the true story of the resurrection of Anne Green)star Book Review: Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper (the true story of the resurrection of Anne Green)halfstar Book Review: Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper (the true story of the resurrection of Anne Green)blankstar Book Review: Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper (the true story of the resurrection of Anne Green) (very good)

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See our other Mary Hooper reviews and our interview with Mary Hooper

Other books by Mary Hooper:

sign sugared plum mary hooper Book Review: Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper (the true story of the resurrection of Anne Green)house magician mary hooper Book Review: Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper (the true story of the resurrection of Anne Green)

fallen grace mary hooper Book Review: Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper (the true story of the resurrection of Anne Green)velvet mary hooper Book Review: Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper (the true story of the resurrection of Anne Green)



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  1. This sounds like quite a moving story Stephanie. Anne is a vulnerable young woman and suffers such atrocities. Just reading that she was hanged and then revived makes my skin crawl- what an experience!
    The Australian Bookshelf recently posted..Discussion Post: Is Fifty Shades of Grey getting non-readers reading again??

    • Stephanie /

      Its very moving, and very eerie. Its also quite relevant to today, really. Its so easy to look at books like these and think about how terrible things were for women all those years ago, but yet, womens bodies and their choices with regard to sex are so often scrutinised and ruled over by middle class white malesjust like the case here.

      I highly recommend giving this one a read if you get a chance. Ive read a few of Hoopers other booksFallen Grace and Velvetand both were absolutely superb. Shes definitely one of my favourite authors!

  2. Freaking yet very intriguing especially since its based on a true case!

    & curious on that last bit re: your final gripe

    • Stephanie /

      Oh, definitely freaky. I didnt know that it was a true story until I read the afterward, and I definitely had a case of the creeps after that!

      The final gripe has to do with the sudden death of someone just as Anne returns from the dead. It did actually happen, though! It really got me thinking about how readers expect everything in a book to follow an internal logic, whereas in real life we know that we dont know the whole story. I think this is a perfect case of that disconnect.

  3. Thanks for the review, I didnt know about this book. I read Fallen Grace, and really enjoyed it. I see there are others I didnt know about that she has written, too.
    Carrie at In the Hammock Blog recently posted..Giveaway: "The Athena Effect" and Necklace!

    • Stephanie /

      My pleasure, Carrie! This is the third book of Mary Hoopers Ive read, and I havent been disappointed yet. Ive got a few more of hers on my Kindle to read shortly, as well.

  4. Im definitely tempted by this one, thanks for sharing Steph!
    shelleyrae @ Bookd Out recently posted..Review & Giveaway: My Sister's Funeral by Stephen Bush

    • Stephanie /

      Pleasure, Shelleyrae! Hooper is definitely one of my favouritesI havent read a bad book by her yet!

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