Review: My Notorious Life

Title: My Notorious Life Image

Author: Kate Manning

Rating: ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: Axie’s story begins on the streets of 1860s New York. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day. 

In vivid prose, Axie recounts how she is forcibly separated from her mother and siblings, apprenticed to a doctor, and how she and her husband parlay the sale of a few bottles of “Lunar Tablets for Female Complaint” into a thriving midwifery business. Flouting convention and defying the law in the name of women’s reproductive rights, Axie rises from grim tenement rooms to the splendor of a mansion on Fifth Avenue, amassing wealth while learning over and over never to trust a man who says “trust me.” 

When her services attract outraged headlines, Axie finds herself on a collision course with a crusading official—Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. It will take all of Axie’s cunning and power to outwit him in the fight to preserve her freedom and everything she holds dear.

Review: To put it simply — this is historical fiction done incredibly well. Even though it takes some time to become acclimated to the style of writing (the author chooses to write in the way Axie would speak, which makes sense due to this being her written memoirs) it was impossible not to become immersed in this story. The setting of New York during the 1860s is rich with details to place the reader within the slums of the city and journey towards the peak of Axie’s social and financial standing as a resident on Fifth Avenue.

Since the reader travels with Axie as she grows from poverty it helps to better understand why she makes the choices she does in terms of her career, and in the end I found that I respected this character very much for the position she took when it comes to the right for a woman to choose what to do with her body. Because believe it or not, the opinion of many concerning a woman’s reproductive rights has not changed since the days of the 1860s. As a midwife, Axie rises to notoriety due to her skills to assist women to take preventative measures and her ability to provide abortions to those who asked for them. To read this was to learn so much about how things were done back in those days (and the details about some of the abortions she did were uncomfortable to read), as well as to question (and be frustrated by) why opinions have altered so little. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject.

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