Fever by Mary Beth Keane

1. First lines 2. Publisher: Simon & Schuster 3. Mary Mallon, who became known as “Typhoid Mary” Source: American Hauntings Ink 4. An illustration that appeared in 1909 in The New York American. [Public Domain] via wikimedia 5. Street Market, Mulberry Street NYC 1900-1910 [Public Domain] via flickr
I liked this book.
Different times, different standards.

In March 1907, Mary Mallon was detained and quarantined after investigations revealed a link with typhoid deaths in the New York homes in which she was employed as a cook. The book brings this real historical episode to life.

“The day began with sour milk and got worse. You were too quick, Mary scolded herself when the milk was returned to the kitchen in its porcelain jug with a message from Mr. Kirkenbauer to take better care.”

“People got sick, and usually got better. When they didn’t get better, it was sad, but how could they have blamed her, one woman, when the whole of New York City was teeming with disease, and doctors now said that even the hang straps on the IRT were under suspicion? Would they shut down the subways? Of course not.”

“… she also wondered if it was possible for a person to know something and not know something at the same time. She wondered whether it was possible to know a truth, and then quickly unknow it, bricking up that portal of knowledge until every pinpoint of light was covered over.”

~ Quotes from the book.
  • Oprah: “Not only is Fever a compelling read for anyone who gets drawn into medical mystery shows, it will also send shivers through anyone who’s ever felt the ill effects of gossip or hypocrisy. But, as Mary herself says, “every part of life feels strange, and every part of life feels inevitable.”
  • Star Tribune: “Keane’s book is fiction, but it sticks fairly close to the truth, giving a rich portrayal of the lives of the working poor in the 1800s.” 
  • The Independent: “What begins like a non-fiction account, with court details and a superficial account of the island to which Mary is moved, quickly comes to life as a fascinating story which also considers class difference – there is a lovely poignant moment when Mary meets her employer wearing the same hat that she has saved for months to buy, and who denies the similarity. Such moments give us much-needed insight into Mary’s character, and possibly why she behaved the way she did.”

Other editions.

Adaptation: A new series starring Elisabeth Moss will be shown on BBC in 2019. Source: Belfast Telegraph 30 September 2018

Author website: Mary Beth Keane

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