Spotlight on “Mrs. Gulliver” by Valerie Martin

by LitStack Editor

Mrs. Gulliver, a surprisingly inventive tale of female subversion and agency in a patriarchal world, with two brilliantly crafted protagonists to root for.

Mrs. Gulliver and author Valerie Martin

About Mrs. Gulliver

It’s 1954 on far-flung Verona Island, a tropical paradise with a fragile economy and a rising crime rate. Prostitution is legal and Lila Gulliver is proud of her business, a high-end brothel where her clients are guaranteed privacy and discretion. When Carità Bercy, a young, destitute, and beautiful blind woman arrives at her door seeking employment, Lila decides to give her a chance.

Carità proves a valuable asset to the house, as well as a psychological puzzle to her employer. One hot night, Ian Drohan, a handsome youth and the scion of the wealthiest family on the island, visits Lila’s house and falls madly in love with Carità. Lila doubts his sincerity and fears for Carità ‘s future.

Carità has no such fears. In fact, Carità is a reckless force of nature, determined to succeed in ways Lila hasn’t even contemplated.

Spirits of the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, as well as the devilish denizens of the magical island in The Tempest, haunt this steamy tale of passionate love, found and lost, and found again.

Editorial Reviews of Mrs. Gulliver

Kirkus Reviews

…[I]n 1954, narrator Lila, who identifies herself as the widow of a far-flung traveler named Gulliver (whom she’s actually met only in the pages of a comic book), has been running her business for 10 years in the main city of a tropical island, where it’s legal. Matter-of-fact Lila, who grew up in poverty and spent her late adolescence in a seedy brothel, prides herself on the respectability of her house and its clientele while diligently treating her employees fairly and with respect. A good-natured cynic, she sees herself and her girls as laborers of the service industry….The arrival of Carità only makes that power more apparent. 

Educated in braille and brought up in comfort, Carità comes to Lila after the uncle who raised her loses his money and kills himself. No one, including the reader, can resist her charms—not just beauty and intelligence but also insightfulness and a pragmatic will that particularly impresses Lila. Neither a victim nor a saint, Carità glides through one crisis after another, the rare literary character always in flow. The central predicament is her inconvenient romance with a client, a rich college student who’s become mixed up with gangsters. Fearing that “rich boys can’t be trusted,” Lila tries to help Carità, only to end up in her own inappropriate relationship with the student’s father. 

There are lively discussions of Marx, Veblen, and conspicuous consumption. There are occasional stark episodes of bloodshed and madness. There is a lot of sex. And a lot of joy. Martin’s characters are not prim; neither is her book. As Lila explains, “The word ‘Carnal’ is so much more thrilling than ‘spiritual.’

Irresistible—a funny, sexy romp that’s also smart, even wise.

Praise for Mrs. Gulliver

“Few have written so surprisingly, so convincingly as Valerie Martin about sexual obsession and the perverse twistings of the human heart.”—Margaret Atwood

“[Martin’s] writing—so prized and clean limbed—is a marvel.”—Toni Morrison

Martin’s…surprisingly playful latest [Mrs. Gulliver] observes two strong-willed women as they make the best of their initially unfortunate lives… it’s a pleasure to get to know both of her intelligent and resourceful heroines.”—Booklist

“An enrapturing and ruthless storyteller,Valerie Martin possesses a predator’s ability to mesmerize her prey . . . Martin’s tales of betrayal, obsession,connivance, and failure put the firepower back into art.”—Chicago Tribune

“The generosity of Martin’s understanding opens every character to the full, astounding range of human possibility. Her revelations build mesmerizing excitement, a surprising kindness, and an unexpected sanity in the darkness.”—The Washington Post Book World

“Martin’s writing is a reward in itself, a wonderful precision-tool. She uses it to chisel at the human condition—and the effect is astonishing.”—Financial Times

“Martin is a vibrant force in American fiction.”The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

About Valerie Martin, Author of Mrs. Gulliver

Mrs. Gulliver

Valerie Martin is the author of twelve novels, including Trespass, Mary Reilly, Italian Fever, and Property, four collections of short fiction, and a biography of St. Francis of Assisi . She has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Her novel Mary Reilly was awarded the Kafka prize, shortlisted for the Prix Femina (France), and made into a motion picture directed by Stephen Frears and starring Julia Roberts and John Malkovitch. Property won Britain’s Orange Prize (now called the Women’s Prize) in 2003.

You can find and follow Valerie Martin on her website.

Titles by Valerie Martin

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Mrs. Gulliver

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