The Lost Apothecary
In this excellent debut novel, The Lost Apothecary, Sarah Penner offers parallel narratives of three women – two in the 1780s, one in the present day, all in London, and all in rough straits.
On one hand, we have the contemporary Caroline, in London alone on what was to have been a tenth wedding anniversary trip with her husband. Just days before their scheduled departure, she discovers that he has been unfaithful. So she crosses the Atlantic alone, needing time and space to process this fact. Jet-lagged after landing, she impulsively joins a group combing through the shallows of the Thames for hidden goodies. There, she finds a small glass vial etched with a bear, and her search for its original owner begins.
Back we go in time to the 1780s and Nella, an apothecary who makes potions and brews for women who seek revenge on men in their lives who have gravely hurt them. Her newest client is a 12-year old named Eliza, employed by one such woman. Eliza is fascinated with magic and potions, and talks her way into assisting a resistant Nella. One inadvertent mistake later, though, and Nella and Eliza are bound together in a fight to survive.
The Lost Apothecary is a story of women seeking their true selves, trying to find their own paths, and helping each other move forward. The plot is satisfyingly intricate, the writing descriptive, and the characters human, flawed but principled.
I do alert you to a certain hyperbole in official blurbs and endorsements for this book. Those blurbs were eloquent and dramatic, but not necessarily…accurate. Trust me. The Lost Apothecary is wonderful in ways that do not need exaggeration at all.