Sarah Gilchrist has fled from London to Edinburgh in disgrace and is determined to become a doctor, despite the misgivings of her family and society. As part of the University of Edinburgh’s first intake of female medical students, Sarah comes up against resistance from lecturers, her male contemporaries, and – perhaps worst of all – her fellow women, who will do anything to avoid being associated with a fallen woman. When one of Sarah’s patients turns up in the university dissecting room as a battered corpse, Sarah finds herself drawn into Edinburgh’s dangerous underworld of bribery, brothels and body snatchers – and a confrontation with her own past.
I blooming loved this book! It had all the ingredients for my perfect read – Victorian setting, a mystery, a female medical student and brothels. And I’d just like to take a moment to mention the cover, I’ve read some beautifully covered books lately and ‘The Wages of Sin’ sits in that group happily. It is the most perfect cover for this story and made me want to start reading immediately. Then I opened the first page, read the first line and just knew I would love love love this book.
“The corpse on the table smelt rancid, and I pressed my handkerchief to my mouth.”
Sarah Gilchrist has become a favourite fictional character of mine. She is head strong, determined and refuses to comply to the typical Victorian ideals. Her dream is to become a doctor and despite the challenges and attitudes of society, she is determined to prove her worth. After a horrific incident she is banished by her family, considered ‘damaged’ and that just makes her an even more endearing character. She knows something is not right with the death of a prostitute that she recently met and is tenacious in her efforts to find the truth. Even if it means risking her own life.
The views of women in Victorian society are shocking. Yet I read a lot of Victorian fiction because I find it fascinating to read about how different life was, especially for women. Kaite Welsh has captured those archaic views superbly in ‘The Wages of Sin’. A lot of the time whilst reading I could feel my blood boil and my face morph into angry-face.
“’If there was ever a group of young ladies more in need of guidance,’ he sighed, shaking his head. ‘No good can come of this fad for lady doctors.”
There was a particularly anger inducing part in chapter 20, where a male doctor prepares to perform brutal surgery on a woman, without her permission, to cure her of her “hysteria”. Victorian attitudes will never cease to both fascinate and repel me.
“’Hysteria,’ he announced. ‘The modern woman’s greatest curse.’ His words were met with raucous laughter. ‘A variety of remedies have been invented to tackle such an affliction – laudanum, stimulation of the lower regions, even this new fad, psychology.’ He smiled, but there was little humour in it. ‘As if any problem could be solved by a woman talking more!’”
I’ve learnt that there are at least two more Sarah Gilchrist novels planned and I cannot wait. I am eager to see more of this heroine and read more of Kaite Welsh’s outstanding writing. This was a book that I found myself completely immersed in, with a fantastic lead character and an intriguing mystery, I highly recommend. Especially if like me you have a penchant for Victorian fiction.
BOOKISH CORNER RATING – 5/5 STARS
Kaite Welsh is an author, critic and journalist living in Scotland. Her novel ‘The Wages of Sin’, a feminist historical crime novel set in Victorian Edinburgh, is the first novel featuring medical student, fallen woman and amateur sleuth Sarah Gilchrist, with two further books due in 2018 and 2019.
Her fiction has featured in several anthologies and she writes a regular column on LGBT issues for the Daily Telegraph as well as making frequent appearances on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. In 2014 she was shortlisted for both the Scottish New Writers Award and the Moniack Mhor Bridge Award. She has also been shortlisted for the 2010 Cheshire Prize for Fiction and the 2010 Spectrum Award for short fiction.
‘The Wages of Sin’ is out now in hardback, published by Tinder Press. With thanks to Emma @HeadlineHighSt for my copy.
If you enjoy ‘The Wages of Sin’ then you’ll also enjoy these reads:
‘The Unseeing’ by Anna Mazzola
‘The Wonder’ by Emma Donoghue
‘The Fair Fight’ by Anna Freeman
‘Inconvenient People’ by Sarah Wise