The Speckled Monster by Jennifer Lee Carrell
Reviewed by Elaine Su 27/4/09
Jennifer Lee Carrell’s account of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Dr. Zabdiel Boylston is well-researched and delves into the personal lives of two prominent figures in the history of smallpox. Carrell channels their personalities, achieving a psychological depth in her characters that brings history to life. The text is an easy read and provides a cursory view of the early history of smallpox as the virus ravaged the cities of London and Boston in the early 1700’s. Despite Carrell’s propensity for one-word sentences and occasional lapses into melodrama, the novel is not without its shining moments; the townhouse debate between Boylston and his intellectual adversary, Dr. Douglass, is both probing and vibrant. Ambitious in its attempts to compress a complicated time period into two mini-biographies, The Speckled Monster nonetheless succeeds in painting an engrossing picture of an era that is utterly preoccupied with the treat of smallpox and the controversy of variolation.