BOOK CLUB: Fever

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Author: Mary Beth Keane
ISBN: 978-1-4711-297-3
RRP: $$24.99

Mary Beth Keane has chosen a well known historical figure as the central figure of her latest novel, an historical figure whom I feel I should be much more familiar with – history was clearly not my strong point at school, and even now I don’t keep up with what’s going on in the world.


Mary Mallon, also referred to as Typhoid Mary, lived in the early part of the 20th Century in New York after emigrating from Ireland as a teenager. She started her career as a laundress and worked her way up to cooking for some very wealthy families, where she unknowingly spread Typhoid Fever. Apparently her story is quite widely known, unfortunately my history knowledge is limited. Keane has brought her into the limelight and inspired me to want to go and find out Mary’s story, to discover the facts of Mary Mallon’s life.

Keane’s descriptions of New York in the first years of the 20th Century made me wonder how so many people survived. There was garbage and manure piled in the streets and hygiene standards were certainly not what they are today. The fact that there was so much disease is definitely not a surprise, and that is something that Keane takes great pains to point out.

Fever is Mary’s story, there’s no doubt about that. Keane has given us a detailed self-portrait of Mary told in the third person. We get a look inside her mind and her heart. I had to keep reminding myself that this is a fictionalised self-portrait though its meticulous research shines through. It is a very realistic and believable self-portrait and for the majority of the novel I sympathised with Mary completely, there were times that she tested the limits of that sympathy but throughout it all I couldn’t help but feel for her.

fever

Mary was the first person in America to be identified as a healthy carrier of Typhoid fever so it is more than plausible for an uneducated Irish cook to be unable to grasp the fact that she was passing on a disease she had never had. Having said that, I found that there were passages that I thought were almost hints from much earlier on that may have given some idea – but even so, I am moving to those conclusions from a 21st Century standpoint where we understand a lot more about germs, disease and their spread.

Keane’s writing style is engaging and kept me involved, I wanted to know how this story unfolded – even when I knew something was going to happen that I just didn’t want to read about. Drawn through Keane’s eyes, I don’t think Mary really grasped the extent of her choices as she made them, but hindsight painted things in a different light for her and that’s something we have all had to deal with at times. Hence the old saying, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

This was a very interesting read which involved me enough to want to do some research about the real Mary Mallon. I felt that Keane could have captured the real Mary because she has written her story so well, and in a way that leaves great doubt as to whether any of her actions were undertaken with malice or a clear understanding of the risks at the time she took the action. On reflection at the end of her life we can plainly see her begin to see the entire situation in a different light, but by that time it is way too late.

There is so much in this book that will appeal to more than just the lovers of history, or those interested in the beginnings of sanitation, disease control, New York. I would recommend it to anyone really.

29 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: Fever

  1. “Fever” written by Mary Beth Keane tells the journey of Mary Mallon, a Irish immigrant living in New York as a cook for wealthy households. The character of Mary depicts a strong willed woman who has had to face various losses throughout her life. Mary is isolated from society when she is believed to be a carrier of Typhoid Fever, placing her with the title of “Typhoid Mary” in the media.

    It is clear to see that the main character feels significant grief for those who pass around her, but does not link the illness and suffering of others around her as being due to her condition.

    The author Mary Beth Keane successfully transports the reader back into the early twentieth century creating an image of the way of life of a lower class woman living with a man without the commitment of marriage, the societal values and set roles of each individual person in society.

    Throughout the book there is a key focus on the power of the medical profession versus the human rights of the individual. Control is also established in the development of an unhealthy and dysfunctional relationship with Mary and her spouse. I quite enjoyed the change from the point of view of Mary, to that of her partner half way through the story as it provides you with insight into each character. However once reading the point of view of Mary, I began to feel the character of her partner Alfred was that of a domestically violent man who had treated the character with a lack of respect for many years, as he had struggled with addictions for alcohol and other drugs. Therefore once I entered the point of view of Alfred, I found it difficult to feel any compassion for his situation.

    The book is a combination of letters to ensure constant contact is kept with outside characters to ensure they are able to be returned to further into the storyline.

    Overall it was an interested read, I would have enjoyed a little more historical content (perhaps some original photos/documents included) to allow greater depth to the story of this strong woman labelled as “typhoid Mary”.

  2. Half way through this book and I am gripped by its detail and imagery. Within the first few pages you feel like you have known Mary all your life, understood her dreams, aspirations and humor. The unfairness in how she has been treated and the struggles she faces in trying to not only understand but face the trials and tribulations of ‘the process’. The lack of support and half hearted efforts of those around her pull at the heart strings and make you want to jump up and shout ‘FAIR GO’!

    The language is descriptive in a way that transports you to America trudging the soiled roads and filth lining the alleyways. I can not wait to finish this book to see how it turns out! Its a hard book to put down!

    1. Well I finished the book and loved it the whole way through. I loved how Mary didnt have the happily ever after ending but the way it was written was amazing that made you feel that she was accepting of the fate she was dealt.

      Mary Keane has a fantastic ability to write that created personal and emotional ties with the charactors. The story line was detailed and gripping, and kept you wanting more and more.

      After reading this book I felt enriched and rewarded and am certainly on the look out for more books written by this creative and inspiring writer.

      Thank you very much!

  3. Thankyou so much B&L for the opportunity to read this story, which I found interesting to say the least.

    This story had so many different reasons why I thoroughly enjoyed reading it; the fact that it was based on a real person and what she went through, the mention of specific times in history that I actually knew about (The Titanic), realising the struggle for normal people in those days (work, life, hopes, dreams), a love story that lasted but would never quite get there.

    I began this book admiring Mary Mallon and feeling so sorry for her and I ended the book still feeling the same way, my opinions of her didn’t change as the story unfolded.
    Mary had little insight into her doing any wrong….why would she? She cooked for many families and friends through her life, she was an amazing, talented chef and the majority of people she cooked for survived and stayed healthy….it was a small minority that fell sick and died, and back in this day and age, it was pretty common for there to be disease outbreaks that would take many lives. I felt for her so much, when her first victim died, a young toddler named Tobias Kirkenbauer, who she truly loved and doted on, she would never have intentionally harmed him and anyone that knew Mary would’ve known that about her.

    Mary met the love of her life, Alfred, when she was in her late teens. Alfred never held a steady job, he was an alcoholic and this would affect his reliability on the job front. Hence why Mary NEEDED to work and to do something that earned a decent wage. But she also loved cooking and pottering around in the kitchen, this was when she felt the happiest.
    It was one Doctor, a Dr Soper, a Sanitary Engineer and Medical Investigator, who was asked to investigate a Typhoid outbreak around the Oyster Bay area, where Mary worked, that brought about her demise. After chasing up the details of the deaths and illnesses he came to the realisation that there was one common factor in all the cases…Mary Mallon. With this information he went about informing Mary about what he believed was happening and giving her the choice to step down and hand herself in, which she would not – I am with Mary on her decision to fight, Dr Soper had no real evidence and Mary had cooked for so many more people that had continued to live perfectly healthy lives. It would’ve been very difficult to comprehend that you were killing people through your food, when you were so healthy yourself!
    I found the way that Dr Soper handled the whole situation, frustrating. He stripped Mary of all her rights as a human being. Isolated her from the entire World, including her partner Alfred and any friends…..nobody knew what happened to her unless they worked it out for themselves through newspaper reports. They tried to force her to undergo an operation to have her Gallbladder removed and I honestly thought they were going to do it without her consent. Mary was sent to Willard Parker Hospital, where she underwent stringent blood & urine tests for 2 weeks, after which they shipped her to an isolated Island known as “Consumption Island” or North Brother. This is an Island where those who suffer from diseases go to die. Mary was still healthy, showing no signs of illness, she was told she would be at North Brother for a few weeks…Mary ended up isolated on the Island for 3 years, where the majority of that time was spent being tested daily, sequestered away in her own purpose-built shack. It was during these 3 years that other healthy Typhoid carriers were discovered and these individuals were allowed to stay with their families and carry on with their lives as long as they stopped doing whatever it was that spread the Typhoid, this gave Mary’s case hope and a good reason why she should be freed.
    Mary’s confinement on the Island did not stop her from fighting for her freedom whatever chance she could. Her relationship with Alfred was failing, I always got the feeling through the book that Mary loved Alfred more than he loved her, Alfred was always ready to give up too easy and fall to his addictions for comfort, he was a weak man.
    Finally after 3 years, Mary was set free (kind of) as long as she followed strict instructions to appear every 3 months for review, and to never cook for anyone again. By this time, Alfred had left her and moved on with another woman. Mary had to start all over again. Her job now was as a laundress, a mundane job to Mary, but she didn’t have a choice. But then sporadically events began to confront Mary where she had the chance to do something with her cooking skills, with some thought, Mary went ahead and broke the rules of her release and began to cook for others again. She was happy….nobody was getting sick.
    Alfred was always on her mind and she was always on Alfred’s mind. His life led him elsewhere for years, he was hurt in an explosion and burnt badly, this event led to Alfred becoming addicted now to opiates….Mary should’ve stayed away.
    Mary was somehow offered a job in a hospital, cooking the meals for patients, she used a false last name (which does give some credence to her guilt – she knew what she was doing was wrong, but I still don’t believe that she truly knew deep down that she had killed people, she wan’t a cold blooded murderer). For a while the hospital job went well, until one day Nurses began to get sick, then some patients. Dr Soper once again investigated and discovered that Mary was the cook.
    Alfred had just passed away from drug addiction, and now Mary was busted again for killing people with Typhoid. She was shipped back to North Brother where she still lived 23 years on, once again in her isolated shack. This time though she was resigned to the fact that it must’ve been her that had somehow poisoned these people, she had no fight left in her.

    The end of the book I got the feeling that Mary’s mind ‘clicked’ and all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place for her and I think she did finally believe that she had caused the death of people. It seemed to be something she sort of knew but kept denying.

    I love Mary Beth Keane’s style of storytelling, she is a very talented writer and I will definately be keeping my eyes peeled for more of her books. She writes with conviction, flair, fluidity and empathy. There was one passage of the story that took my breath away and I actually highlighted it after reading it; it was when Mila Borriello was talking to Mary about her son, Alberto, who died from drowning:

    ” I pushed him out of me, and nursed him, and soothed him, and then one day he left here and didn’t come back. Like he was nothing and everything I felt for him was nothing and all that time we felt it was good, and strong, and special, it was really no stronger than a strand of hair snipped in two”.

    – what an amazing, thoughtful, poetic passage.

    I am so happy that I was accepted to read & review this book as it’s probably not one I would’ve picked out for myself and I would hate to have missed out on reading such an involving story.

  4. Thank you so much to Beauty & Lace and Simon & Schuster for sending me Fever by Mary Beth Keane.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading Fever. Time flew by as I flipped the pages over each day. I found it a struggle to place the book down when I needed to and found myself thinking about what was going to happen next when I wasn’t reading. Mary Beth Keane did a fantastic job of writing, I felt as if I could see the people, smell the scenery, reach out and touch the fabric of clothing and feel the emotions of Mary Mallon herself. Sometimes I became so involved I felt as though I was watching a movie about Typhoid Mary’s instead of reading the novel. As I read through the novel I was thrown back and forth to learn of the circumstances within her life that lead to Mary Mallon’s capture.

    Before I read Fever I had no knowledge whatsoever of Typhoid Mary or her history, once I’d finished the book I felt the need to research her story via the internet. I was amazed once I started to read about Mary Mallon’s life because I soon realised that I already knew it thanks to Keane’s Fever. Mary Beth Keane included all true facts within her story from the families Mary Mallon work for to the events of North Brother. Being a fictional novel Mary Beth Keane developed the story herself and painted a vision in my mind of what Mary Mallon’s true life would have been like. Keane filled in the gaps of the facts you would only read in history books and turned Mallon into someone I feel for.

    Now for me to discuss the story without trying to give too much away.
    The novel is based manly during the 1900’s, beginning in 1899 with the story of Mary’s first cooking situation with the Kirkenbauer family. This is where I learnt of a horrible experience that Mary continually remembers throughout the novel, as the years go by what happened on that day continually affects her. Throughout the book I learn that Mary was an Irish immigrant, coming to America in 1883 to live with her Aunt Kate. At age 15, Mary obtained a job as a laundress and worked with a family until one day an event threw her the opportunity of being a cook. She well and truly proved herself capable of this position and finally held the title of cook as she moved from situation to situation. This was her career and what she wanted in life.
    As I continue to read through the chapters I become quiet envious of Mary. She is an incredibly strong, independent woman. She doesn’t care for how women “should” act, as long as she is happy that’s what matters. People would frown at her and the love of her life, Alfred, for living together unmarried but she didn’t care. She wanted more than being a house wife and thoroughly enjoyed her cooking career.
    As the chapters fly by, different characters became introduced, one of which has a huge effect on Mary Mallon’s life, and that is DR. Soper. Seen in Mary’s eyes as a villain and pure evil, I just thought of him as being portrayed unfairly. His job was to investigate the spreading of Typhoid and as years past he was traced to Mary Mallon. I didn’t see him as being rude yet Mary always objected to his requests thus leading to her capture, as she was a danger to the public. I did think it was harsh how she was removed from her friends for all those years and isolated but then I thought things would have been differently if she had participated with him initial. She was portraying herself as rather guilty. With lives suffering all around her I saw her as being in denial also. Yes, in the beginning she was unaware of Typhoid and how it was being spread, but then it was brought to her attention and she still continued to cook, she was captured, taken to North Brother and released on terms of not cooking, but she cooked anyway and people became sick and passed away. The hospital position rather upset me. When young women and babies became ill she was careless and never removed herself from the job. I guess the urge to earn money for Alfred made her show up each morning. Still, I thought of it as careless. Are people’s lives, young and old, worth that risk? I think in the end she realised just how careless she had been and if she didn’t resort to cooking again, a lot would be different, loves wouldn’t be lost.
    My opinion of Mary went up and down as I read the book. Guilty then not guilty. Strong then weak. Brave then not. Why did she condone Alfred’s behaviour when she returned to him. Was she afraid of losing him again so she would just do as he asks? If she had remained the old Mary I think things would have ended differently.
    The end of the book concludes with a diary entry written by Mary. She looks back on her life and welcomes what will be her soon future.

    I thought some parts of the book could have been more involved. The inclusion of Alfred let me learn of Mary’s nurturing side, but when Alfred had a story to tell himself I was always left wanting to know more. I felt his story was rushed and I didn’t really understand his situation when he parted with Mary. His story could have been more developed so I could have gained a better understanding of his growing pain and addiction.

    To conclude, I truly loved reading this novel and I will re-read and recommend it to my friends and family to read too, in fact I already have. I love when I become connected to a character, Keane wrote Mary so well and I feel like I know her now. I now have knowledge of a well-known figure in history whereas before I didn’t. A fantastic read.

  5. My original thoughts when I heard about this book was that it could possibly be quite boring and mundane, however I was pleasantly surprised about how much I enjoyed it.
    It went into intricate detail about the life of Mary, where she came from, the reasons that she went to America to get a better life.
    To be looking for such awful work at such a young age, doing laundry when all she really wanted to do was cook.
    Her relationship with Alfred which had some good times but seemed mostly bad with him always drinking and not working.
    The way she was taken once they realised that she was infecting people through her cooking, must have been a horrid experience, then being segregated in a small cabin all alone, constantly having to provide samples, being poked and prodded, never allowed visitors, and to go on that like for 3yrs before finally being released.
    I thought that would be the end of it, but after all the heartache, finally finding a job and a place to live, getting back on her feet, to then be taken back to that horrible place to live the rest of her life out.
    This was a very moving story about Mary’s life, her heartbreak at losing people she lived with, especially the children, and then to also lose Alfred, she must have been a very strong woman to cope with so much pressure and scrutiny.
    I very much enjoyed reading this book and will look forward to reading other novels written by Mary Beth Keane if they are written with the same depth and emotion.
    Thankyou so much for letting me be a part of this readers review.

  6. Take a trip back in time to the early twentieth century and follow the life, hardships and atrocities of the time. Following Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant living in New York, earning her living as a cook and unknowingly spreading Typhoid Fever to those that she cooks for. Little does she realize that the people who die around her, who suffer great illness and that she tries to nurse to health, succeeding only some of the time, is due to her cooking and the lack of understanding hygiene for that time.

    Medical science of the day also had little knowledge of how “healthy carriers” existed and spread the disease and so their next best option was isolation. Taken by force, Mary was removed from her job, long time partner and friends, and isolated into a small shack on an island destination primarily for tuberculosis patients. Once there, Mary is unable to cook, leave, have visitors and, in the beginning, unable to contact friends or family. Subjected to daily and weekly blood, urine and stool samples with no information about the results, why exactly she is there, how long she will be there.

    Mary Beth Keane does such a good job in taking you back, putting you in Mary’s shoes and showing the reader how unfair history was. Sadly I have doubts that modern people would have done better in those times.

    After years of isolation, Mary appeals to a lawyer who takes on her case and after failed attempts to gain her freedom, and the passing of more time in isolation, Mary is finally freed under strict conditions of monthly testing and a change of career, No More Cooking! Sadly, by this time her lover, Alfred, a man who drank regularly and was often out of work, has found a new family, cleaned up and was working regularly.

    Taking a change of view to that of Alfred, Mary Beth Keane challenges readers to understand his perspective. Already your heart bleeds for Mary and her injustice but now you are drawn into the tragedy of his life, alcoholism, torn between the family he honorably wishes to do right by and his love for Mary. This drives him back to alcohol and a tragedy of his own, leading to a tragic life of drug dependence.

    Mary and Alfred, destined for each other eventually find each other again, only for Alfred to die and Mary to fall back to cooking and find herself once again removed from society.

    I was hooked by the prologue and was saddened by the book ending. I could hardly put it down to go to work and just wished the day would pass so that I may again pick up where I left off. As a medical scientist myself, living in such times, not knowing about the diseases, their causes and the unfairness of it all made this an even better read. I’ve no doubt after reading this book google will get more hits looking into the story of Typhoid Mary, and others like her.

  7. Fever was a captive read. Although – like the Titantic sinking – history buffs will be familiar with the outcome,this does not deter the reader from wanting to stick with the story to the end.
    The tale of Mary Mallon, depicts the highs and lows of our main protagonist against a historic background that the author brings vividly to life. We are taken on a journey that enlightens us to the effect others have on Mary as well as the impact she greatly has on society.
    When it comes to Mary’s arrest (spoiler alert), I could not help but wonder if this is what an episode of Law and Order would be like in the early 1900s.
    With the cooler weather approaching. Fever is an enthralling read to occupy you during the wintery weather and a timely reminder of the importance of good hygiene.

  8. “Fever” A book I did not want to put down.

    You feel every emotion when you read this gripping story about Mary Mallon. Did she deserve to be despised and isolated for decades or did she genuinely believe she had caused no harm? While the reader is left to draw their own conclusion about Typhoid Mary this novel is thought provoking. There are always two sides to every story and Mary I’m sure would have had quite a tale to tell.

    I enjoyed this very well written story from begining to end. Mary Beth Keane beautifully weaves fact and fiction into a fascinating novel.

  9. Thank you for the opportunity to review this wonderful story about ‘Typhoid Mary’. It was a gripping read from start to finish as I became fascinated with Mary’s unusual fate. At first I was on her side feeling angry at the US government forcibly removing her from general population as she was unaware that she was indeed a typhoid carrier and that she wasn’t allowed to even say goodbye to friends and her lover.
    After she was released her stubborn nature got her in trouble as she wasn’t content to work away from preparing food and decided to brake the law and even work under false name at a maternity hospital infecting newborn babies sealing her fate which I thought was foolish although I got a glimpse of how hard her life was as a laundress.

    I loved the attention to detail in the storyline the daily challenges and struggles people faced. The point that illness and childbirth didn’t discriminate whether you were rich or poor made no difference. It made me think about how life has changed for the better and about how lucky we are only 100 years on.

    Mary’s reflection on her life as she was close to death was very interesting as I wonder whether her strong will and stubborn nature weakened with old age in real life.

    Mary Beth Keane is a very talented writer bringing a fascinating and unusual story to life in her brilliant masterpiece. I was so gripped I googled the case and found some photos of Mary in the hospital.

    There are books that you carry through life remembering their amazing storylines and Fever will be one of them as it was thought provoking taking me on an emotional ride through amazing part of human history.

  10. Fever. What a story! I enjoyed this book from the moment I picked it up. Even tho its classed as fiction based on truth, there was so much included into the storyline and woven around the characters that made it feel the whole truth and I thought it was going to be a factual and historicial book, not a book with feeling. It was extremely well written and I would not have known any different, it was the cleverly insereted facts such as the titantic for example that made it this way. Well researched and certainly, Mary Beth Keane knew the times and was very talented in her writing. I became enthralled with her descriptions and the knowledge of the era, even the pitifull existence of those living in such squallor.

    The whole book was done to perfection, including the title, the cover of the novel, so dark for the death that surrounded her but so significant to the time. I discovered the “Poor Mary” syndrome and thats how the writer wanted me to feel, by relating to her, feeling for her.

    If I had one critiscim of the book, I got a little bit bored with the story of Alfred but in saying that, I know that he was a integral part of the whole of Typhoid Mary.

  11. I love true life stories like these and thought Fever was a thought provoking tale. I felt so sorry for Mary throughout the story , but was never really sure if she truly believed she was a carrier, I feel in the end she had resigned herself to the fact that she was. I really wanted to know more about the historical aspects of the time and will probably research the events furthur.
    All in all this is a really good read that I certainly enjoyed and was left wanting to know more. Being a true story I would have liked to maybe see some photographs included but the author did a great job with the story, especially always giving the reader the sense of asking “Was she or wasn’t she”. A very tragic tale for all involved.

  12. I enjoyed this novel and had trouble putting it down. The mere fact its based on a true story that really touched me. It was written and the author Mary Beth Keane wanted us to understand this conlict between Mary’s hardship and Alfred and in particular in those times which was ofcourse not easy to live and survive.

    You notice the details and challenges you meet throughtout the story of people just trying to survive and migrating to a new country and just learning to fit in. Mary’s stubborn nature till the end of her old age makes you wonder if that too could have been her downfall. An excellent novel and well written that makes you wonder how difficult times were and was Mary must have felt to be isolated and alone. A strong and tragic story that leaves you wondering how would Mary life be if things had turn around for her

    Thank you beauty and lace for this wonderful oppprotunity to review this novel full of intense and its history on the life of this lady called Mary. I reccommend others to read it.

  13. This book is truly amazing! Before reading it I must confess I’d never heard of Typhoid Mary so this was all new to me.
    From the start I was hooked…after a few pages in tears and then couldn’t put the book down. I have 2 small children so this book was a 2 part read for me over 2 nights.
    At first I felt so incredibly sorry for Mary as it didn’t seem to me she understood her disease…and why would she being the early 1900’s and she had no symptoms herself? I felt also terrible for her since she could no longer cook and this was her passion.
    Her partner Alfred … in my opinion was pretty much a loser – her drank far too much, barely wrote to her while she was away … then got engaged to another woman – who in the end he didn’t have the courage to even face when he left her to go back to Mary.
    Toward the end when Mary’s passion for cooking overrode her not being certain about having Typhoid or if she’d even pass it on made me question her integrity. After taking a job in a bakery and again being caught then to use a different surname and work in a kitchen in a Maternity Hospital (of all places) and pass on typhoid there…this made me quite angry. I feel even if she only had the slightest knowledge that she could harm another why would she even consider working with food again.
    Overall I love this book and will be passing it on.
    Next time one of my children develop a fever I’ll be thinking ‘Oh god please not Typhoid’!
    Thanks Beauty and Lace for yet another brilliant read xxoo

  14. I love historical novels and truly enjoyed reading this book! Loved the strength of the min character Mary. Was a fascinating glimpse into the lived of single independent women in the past and how unfair and challenging it could be. Loved the detailed information about her working day, the kind of chores she could be called upon to perform.
    Really empathized with her in her determination in believing that she was in the right. I do think that somewhere deep inside her she knew that she was in the wrong but facing it meant the scary feeling of losing her sense of self worth in her abilities as a cook which she relied on not just for her income but how she viewed herself.
    Was not happy with the story of Albert as felt it did not add much to the main story. His trip to the wilderness started off as a life changing event but he just turned back to his old ways. He was the main weakness in Mary’s life and in the story!
    Loved the warmth of the characters in the building where she lived and the support they gave her which was so non judgmental. Wish Mary had taken up her romance with the gardener/caretaker at the hospital so she could have had a happy ending.
    Was a thoroughly enjoyable read and loved the book, was entertaining yet informative.

  15. I enjoyed reading Fever immensely, I was hooked from the first page. Over the course of the book I was gripped by many emotions, firstly pity for Mary, then anger at her ignorance and inability to realise she could be responsible for the deaths of many people, even though the evidence was there. As for her going to work for a bakery, thinking baking was different from cooking, I just wanted to grab her and shake some sense into her.

    Her love affair with Alfred was sweet and bitter. I think that she lost all her bravado and willpower when he passed away and that is why she gave up so meekly to Soper and didn’t put up any fight when she was taken back to North Brother.

    If she’d only done as she was told and not cook for anyone again, she would have been left alone and allowed to be free, but apparently she knew better and refused to believe she was a carrier of typhoid, putting other people in danger by cooking, for goodness sake, she even took up a cooking position in a maternity hospital.

    This of course is only my opinion. I highly reccomend reading this book and coming to your own conclusion.

  16. How many times do you wash your hands each day? Do you shower regularly? Clean with disinfectants, bleach, hot soapy water? Mary Beth Keane’s novel ‘Fever’ takes us back to a day when all of these things were unheard of, and where, instead, death and disease lurked around every corner, among the heaving piles of garbage and human waste that lined the city streets.

    Immigrating from Ireland to New York in 1884, Mary Malone worked hard to establish herself in the working class. From a young aged she worked her way up to becoming a well established cook. She has a genuine knack for food and cooking, for menu ideas, and how to make the most out of the often limited supplies available to her. Mary is proud of what she has achieved in her life, and for good reason – she has held a number of ‘situations’ for important and wealthy New York families. However, death and disease seem to follow Mary where ever she goes. It doesn’t alarm her though – after all, in the early 1900s, people did, quite often, get sick. Once they got sick, they often died. Mary was a compassionate woman, caring tenderly for any members of the families she worked for if they got sick.

    Until one day when her life is uprooted by one Dr Soper, who believes her to be a carrier of Typhoid, spreading the fever through her cooking. Dr Soper is abrupt and rude in his interactions with Mary, treating her like a low-class idiot. Not surprisingly, strong-willed, quick tempered Mary refuses to submit to his request for urine and stool samples, writing his claims off as ridiculous and going about her work. Until she gets taken away, quarantined on a small island for what may as well be, the rest of her life.

    Mary Beth Keane’s novel seamlessly bridges the gap between fact and fiction, bringing to life a historical character with compassion and empathy. Prior to reading this, I could only vaguely recollect the name ‘Typhoid Mary’, as she was so dubbed. I knew littler about this period in history nor this woman, and I found that this was the perfect blank slate to begin reading Fever. I think if I had known more of the facts, I would question if the author had everything right, I would ask how she knew what Mary or any of the other characters felt – but reading this without any background knowledge or prejudices I was happy to get swept up in the story.

    I was impressed by the imagery created in this novel, of both the New York landscape and of Mary’s long time partner, Alfred. A drunk, later a drug addict, with no ability to hold down a steady job – I imagine he was part of the reason Mary felt like she couldn’t give up her work as a cook. To put it simply, they needed the money. But there was more to it than that – Mary had a strong sense of pride. After years of working for some of the best families, she felt it was beneath her to work in a laundry or any other menial job, and it was this that was her ultimate downfall.

    The characters of Dr Soper and the other medical professionals were infinitely infuriating – rather than trying to explain things to Mary, they treated her like an imbecile. They punished her for being strong-willed and believed that her temper and pride made her a ‘bad’ woman. She was stripped of her rights and refused legal representation. She wasn’t even allowed to contact Alfred to tell him what had happened – it took months for them to get in contact via mail.

    Of course the argument could be made that Mary’s attitude did little to help the situation – she didn’t cooperate, she didn’t apologise and, once she had left the island, she didn’t continue to check in. She outright refused to abide by the order to never cook again. And yet, Mary Beth Keane has created in Typhoid Mary a woman that we feel for deeply, a woman that we feel frustrated for, even when she goes about putting more and more people in danger. We wish she knew, like we know, what she was doing – but accept that she was just trying to maintain a life for herself. This is where the author has done a great job, in eliciting compassion for a character who, right up until her old age, refuses to admit she has done anything wrong.

    It is only in the last pages of the book that Mary looks back over her life and wonders if she has, in fact, caused the deaths that she has been accused of. It is only then that she asks forgiveness, and it is then that she completely wins the reader’s heart.

  17. Thank you Beauty and Lace for letting me review this book. I found ‘Fever’ such an interesting read. History is not my forte, so although I had some vague memory of hearing about a typhoid plague in the past I didn’t really understand what it meant. I felt so sorry for Mary. How awful for her to be persecuted like that. I’m assuming that it’s typical of the era for women to be treated that way. She must have been a really strong person to be able to survive the way she did. It must have been so frustrating for her to put up with men who wouldn’t tell her a thing, tell her she’s criminal and let her be sort of free, but not really and to do it all by herself because she couldn’t really rely on poor old Alfred. I don’t know how much of this story is real, but now I want to find out more. I wonder how typhoid was passed on and I wonder if Mary really had to live that isolated life?
    Not knowing how typhoid really was spread, I’m glad that Mary did get released and had that chance to live a somewhat normal life. She even got to go back to baking, which she loved. Surely back then with the poor hygiene that existed, there were other ways of typhoid being spread? Reading some of the other reviews, the reviewers were angry for Mary’s irresponsibility. I really sympathised with her though and feel that if she was given more information and treated fairly (like the farmer carrier) then her life could have looked a whole lot different. Having said that, I have three children myself and if we were living back then, I probably would have had completely different views. A wonderful read that will be passed around to all of my friends. Thanks again >:o)

  18. I was so excited to be selected to read “Fever” by Mary Beth Keane. I have a natural love of Irish history and medicine and this book captured my attention from the get go. She was a feisty woman who spoke her mind and didn’t suffer fools gladly. It was unfortunate for her that she was born in the period that didn’t have the medical knowledge and understanding that could have could have saved her. Her great and unfailing love for Alfred was beautiful and all she wanted in return was faith and understanding. It is a pity that her relationship with John Cain didn’t go further, but in his own simple ways he understood her and supported her. Thank you for allowing me to read this book. It will be passed onto many family and friends.

  19. Thanks for the opportunity to read and review Fever. I know little about the history of typhoid and I hadn’t heard of the case of Mary before so this book was all totally new for me. I am impressed at how the author Mary Beth Keane has thorough researched details of life at the time so the book seems realistic and you can believe that is what life would have actually been like 100 years ago.

    This book drew me in much more than I ever expected it would! I didn’t think I would be quite so interested as history is not really my thing but it was a captivating read. The book had chapters mainly from Mary’s point of view but there was a few from Alfred’s as well which completed the story more fully. The letters also helped.

    I felt myself emotionally involved with the characters, from feeling sorry for Mary, trapped with her, angry at Alfred and a general feeling of unfairness of the whole situation that occurred. Then there were times when I was angry with Mary – for example when she went and cooked again. I know it would have been hard for her but that was something she was forbid to do and could be arrested for again. There were times when I really wished I could tell the characters what to do and that they would listen. I lost the respect I had gained for Alfred from stopping drinking, when he later became a drug addict. It seemed all he wanted was to be with Mary yet he always made life hard.

    The ending of the book was not exciting or surprising like I had hoped, but instead it was just sad and full of sad acceptance. Mary lost her fight and instead surrendered to the isolation. It was sad she no longer had any friends to even so much as visit her. I was slightly disappointed in the ending but I found the book on a whole was very good, and I couldn’t wait to read a bit whenever I had the chance! Thanks again for the great read!

  20. What a wonderfully insightful look at what life would have been like in New York city in the early 1900’s.
    When I first received this book I had certainly heard the name Typhoid Mary, but had no idea of how it came about. This book although fictionalised, shows how it really could have been for poor Mary.
    So, the book is written around Mary Mallon, whom is an immigrant from Ireland. She came out on a boat from Ireland to New York city with the hope of a new and exciting life. She starts out as a laundress to make money but really has hopes of being a cook. She meets a man called Alfred, with whom she falls madly and deeply in love with, even though he will not propose marriage. They move in together and Alfred ends up with a heavy drinking problem, but Mary does all she can to maintain the household whilst holding down a job.
    Mary through sheer luck gets her dream job of being a cook for a family and is seemingly happy. She makes wonderful food and thoroughly enjoys what she is doing. Alfred occasionally gets a job and things are pretty good for Mary and she loves the rooms that she rents with him, life is pretty good.
    After working for a few different families cooking, Mary is saddened that “the fever” strikes a lot of people. Thankfully she never gets it and is always able to help look after those that are struck down with it.
    The years go on and Mary continues to move on from family to family to cook and is only a little surprised at how many people get the fever. Seeing as there is so much filth, dead carcasses and dog shit on the streets of New York, Mary thinks its no wonder there are not more illnesses.
    At her next job Mary is accosted by a Dr Soper, claiming that she is a carrier of Typhoid and she cant understand that, as she has never been sick. Mary is able to send him away without having her bosses find out what he is claiming.
    Unfortunately the next time Mary is taken by force to the local hospital and told that they need to keep her for testing and will possibly have to cut her open, as they think it is an organ carrying the disease.
    From here Mary ends up on North Brother island where she is quarantined, unable to leave until they can decide how she is spreading the disease. This lasts for five years, until Mary is told that she is free to leave as long as she checks in regularly for testing and absolutely does not cook for anyone. Mary has also found out that Alfred has moved on and got engaged to someone else, really to me it sounds, to save his own skin, so that he has a roof over his head and food on the table.
    Mary still does not understand the severity of passing on Typhoid through cooking and ends up cooking again. Alfred leaves the woman he is engaged to but ends up in an accident where he is badly burned. He has to take pain medication and in those days that was morphine and heroin. So eventually Alfred ends up a drug addict.
    Poor Mary takes him back and they get their own rooms again, however, Mary ends up working to pay for his drug habit. Mary eventually ends up cooking on a large scale for a birthing hospital, and the pay is good, so she can really help Alfred, until one day she gets home and Alfred is dead.
    Next thing there is a breakout of the fever at the hospital and who turns up, but Dr Soper and poor Mary is sent back to North Brother Island for the rest of her years.
    I could nearly have cried for the life that Mary had, and how she just kept getting kicked down. Personally I think her life was a misery, but she always tried to see the brighter side.
    It was a very sad end to a very sad life.

  21. I had a great time reading Fever. A very hard book to put down. Each chapter focused on a different aspect of Mary’s life. Even though I knew what Mary’s fate would be, the storyline was certainly not predictable. I cringed when Mary and Mrs O’Malley slaughtered the pig, I was bewildered when Alfred declared his love for another woman and I cried when Alfred passed away. I was mad that Mary kept cooking after discovering she was killing people. However, I felt sympathy for her because all she wanted to do was cook. I was mad and sad at the same time.Something so simple, yet so fatal.

    Mary spent the first half of her life caring for other people and never got the chance to have her own family. I secretly hoped that Mary would fall in love with John Cane, the caretaker on North Brother.

    After reading how tough life was back in the early 20th century, with jobs being so manual and arduous, it made me appreciate how easy we have it in the 21st century.

    Overall I thoroughly enjoyed reading Fever. This is the first novel I have read in many years. I’m now looking forward to reading another book by Mary Beth Keane.

  22. Thank you Beauty & Lace and Simon & Schuster for giving me the chance to review Fever for you.
    What an emotionally captivating story, i began reading thinking that i had no knowledge of the “Typhoid Mary” story but once i was a third of the way through i felt like i may have seen a movie based on Marys story before.
    This was an easy to read, captivating book, i had it finished within 2 days.
    My feelings towards Mary changed numerous times through the book, i felt sorry for her, pittied her, angered by her and she shocked me towards the end, but overall i had to admire her courage through it all.
    Mary Beth Keane set the scene really well, it was easy to picture Mary’s surroundings and how life was back in the early 1900’s and how hard you had to work if you wanted to live a somewhat secure and comfortable life.
    I thoroughly enjoyed Fever and highly recommend it, if you have no knowledge of the Typhoid Mary story it will open your eyes to a situation that you couldnt comprehend, if you are familiar with Marys story this will give you an informative yet emotional account of her sad life.

  23. I really enjoyed this novel. I knew the story of Typhoid Mary in outline only – that she was a carrier of the disease but immune herself, and was quarantined for the rest of her life on an island – and was really interested to find out more. I know this was fictionalised, but assume the basic facts were correct. I’m not going to summarise the story, because a number of readers have already done that.

    It was a really fascinating book, both as a novel and as a historical record. The author did a great job of making Mary a realistic and empathetic character. I really understood her bewilderment and rage, and her actions were entirely understandable. The historical environment – not that long ago, really – was well drawn in a way that helped to illuminate her behaviour. I imagine most of the emotional aspects of the novel were pure fiction, but they chimed well with the facts and I bet they weren’t too far away from the reality. In that time and place, Mary was pretty helpless against a male doctor and a male system that were biased against her; I would have wanted to bop someone if I was in her place. Although she was clearly a danger to others, you finish this novel feeling that a great injustice was done to her along the way.

    This novel took a shadowy historical figure and made her real, and interesting, and lively. It cast an interesting light on the general attitudes and behaviours of the time. And it was a really good read; it caught me up and kept me involved. It was fast paced and didn’t let the documentary aspect slow down a truly good story. I enjoyed this immensely and would recommend it to others. I’ve already passed it on to my husband, because it’s a novel that should appeal to a male audience as well.

  24. Thank you Beauty & Lace and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read and review this book.
    I felt the author Mary Beth Keane very successfully created an image of the early twentieth century and the way of life of a lower class immigrant woman . I have been to New York and visited some old tenement buildings on the Lower East side of Manhattan and could almost imagine I was really there.
    I alternated between feeling sorry and frustrated for Mary for her life and the way in which she was treated, and at other times feeling quite angry at her stubbornness and lack of insight into the situation, and thinking surely she must have realised somewhere deep inside herself that all those typhoid deaths may not have been coincidence.
    I found the relationship between Mary and Alfred frustrating. I got the impression that Mary put a lot more into it that Alfred did. Perhaps Alfred really did love Mary but he seemed like quite a weak man. Did Mary have such low self esteem that she didn’t think she could have done better? Was having Alfred better than having no one at all?
    Overall I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. Mary Beth Keane does a great job of taking a real person from history and bringing her story to life for us. I’ll be happy to pass it on to others to read.

  25. Fever gives an interesting account of the life of Typhoid Mary, from her initial conviction to the resolution of her case. The book should almost be subtitled “adventures in denial” – ignorance and poor education aside, Mary really does not want to acknowledge what is in front of her own nose, not just with respect to her illness but also in her personal life. The book gives an excellent account of the circumstances surrounding her discovery, diagnosis and isolation, and it is fascinating to see how her case was managed. The author has obviously done her research and the facts of the case are well documented, however, when creating a fiction account of a factual occurrence some poetic licence can be taken – and I wish she had taken so much more. The entire story feels glossed over and parts of the story feel very rushed. She skims frustratingly fleetingly over Mary’s young life in Ireland, and delves little into the lives of those around her. I would have loved a glimpse into the personal lives and opinions of the doctors and health workers who were instrumental in having her quarantined; I was interested in her partner but we never really got to know him on more than a superficial level; and most of all, I would have loved to have grown up with Mary – learned about her childhood and early life. If I had known her more personally, she may have been more of a sympathetic character rather than a frustratingly ignorant one. Is the book worth reading? Absolutely, I found it deeply interesting – it just left me wanting more.

  26. Mary Beth Keane has done a wonderful job creating the book Fever, transporting the reader into the life of a woman known throughout the news as Typhoid Mary. Fever walks you through the battles Mary Mallon had to face and the decisions she had to make, you feel what she felt in that very moment in time. But, at the end of the day was Mary Mallon a true killer or was she scared and confused? Beautifully written and based on a true story, Fever is a book I enjoyed reading and would recommend to others. It was a book I didn’t want to put down and when I had to, I would find myself thinking about it or talking about the story with others. I would not be surprised if there is a movie made, inspired by Fever. I just love the style of the author Mary Beth Keane so I will be keeping an eye out for more of her books in the future!
    Thank you to both Beauty & Lace and Simon & Schuster for giving me the opportunity to read a copy of Fever, this is a fantastic book! I give it a 5 out of 5.

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