Book Review: Savage Girl

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“All the murders, all the bloody gashes, all the obliterated organs. The thought had preoccupied me for the past few weeks, that I had been present at every crime scene…well, I had been in the general vicinity of Virginia City when it happened. By some lights, by some narrowly suspiciously lights – by a policeman’s lights, in other words – I could have done them all…or the Savage Girl would. Because the only other person I could think of who was at each and every crime scene was Bronwyn…plus she had a sharp instrument in her possession that she could employ against anyone, including me.”   Hugo Delegate, p. 312.”

“Oh, because I am poison,” she said. “Didn’t I already tell you that? Everybody who loves me dies.” Bronwyn p. 340.

Savage Girl opens with Hugo Delegate, son of ridiculously wealthy stock, standing over the body of a school friend. He is questioning if this was done by his hands or Hers? From this point forward, it is Hugo’s tale to tell as to how he came to find himself alone in a room with his murdered friend. It is a fantastic tale as told to his two lawyers.

From the outset, and all throughout his story, Hugo keeps his confusion to himself as to whom may be responsible for this murder, and as we learn along the way for the countless other bodies: is it at the hands of Savage Girl? but could it not also be by his hand? He’s not able to ascertain his innocence in this and as we journey along with his two lawyers in tow, we as well are unable to ascertain the guilty one for this ever increasing body count.

I’ll insert a brief description of Savage Girl (from Goodreads) here:

A riveting tale from the author of The Orphanmaster about a wild girl from Nevada who lands in Manhattan’s Gilded Age society

Jean Zimmerman’s new novel tells of the dramatic events that transpire when an alluring, blazingly smart eighteen-year-old girl named Bronwyn, reputedly raised by wolves in the wilds of Nevada, is adopted in 1875 by the Delegates, an outlandishly wealthy Manhattan couple, and taken back East to be civilized and introduced into high society.

So, for the benefit of his legal staff, Hugo tells his story from the first moment of meeting this Savage Girl and of his family’s desire to acquire her for personal study. The Delegates come from insane wealth and the family can travel at their leisure through the US by way of their own 12-car private train. They have handfuls of servants, some that are quite odd and mysterious ones at that. After the family has determined to leave Virginia City with Savage Girl in tow they embark on a journey home to New York. Here, their plan is to introduce the girl into society as their daughter and sister.

Hugo’s story also reveals his supposed madness or mental instability and his many times spent recovering in sanatoriums throughout his youth and school years. He also shares his fascination with the Savage Girl, as he can only seem to call her. All along their train ride home, and throughout the years living in society, slashed and murdered bodies abound. Each time, Hugo suspects Savage Girl, although each time there remains shadows of doubt where he suspects himself, as he finds himself present at every death.

So, is he the one responsible for these grisly deaths? Is it the Savage Girl? If you note the page numbers of where the quotes above are taken from, you will find they appear well near the end of the book.  This is where my point of departure with Savage Girl  occurred. While it is exquisitely written and the details are divine, lush and lovely, the ever growing number of bodies continued on and on. It was simply too long and repeated itself too often to maintain my interest and many times I wailed “Just tell us already!”

When the ending is reached and the murderer made known to the reader, it just did not rise to the occasion let’s say, for me. For, when it was revealed it was more of a “finally!” and not such a shocking twist. By this time, I’m also so far removed from Hugo so weary of his “unreliable” character and narration.  (“Unreliable” being in quotations because it’s a out-worn its welcome buzzword for me.) There is very little voice given to Bronwyn, which bothered me. I would have really enjoyed hearing from both and the two “unreliable” perspectives rather than only Hugo’s narration. I cannot say enough however about Zimmerman’s exquisite writing, and it is because of it that my continued return to the story happened. Therefore, I remain very interested in reading The Orphanmaster, for she does write with great, rich beauty.

Penguin/Viking has developed this fantastic complement to the book with this Book Club Kit . Music, drinks and discussion questions! This is a wonderful accompaniment to the book. Thank you as well to Viking for the advanced reading copy of Savage Girl.

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