Book review: An Almond for a Parrot by Wray Delaney
Writing under the name Wray Delaney, award-winning children’s author Sally Gardner has turned her considerable writing talents to adult novels… and this sparkling, sizzling, seductive 18th century odyssey is certainly adult with a capital A!
Brimming with danger, dark humour, a delicious brand of magical realism, sexual extravagances, a riotous cast of characters and some heart-melting romance, An Almond for a Parrot is a glorious evocation of bawdy novels like Fanny Hill and The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that this fast-paced adventure is all raunchy romp and no realism. Delaney is a clever writer and there is a gritty undercurrent to the fortunes and misfortunes of lovable whore Tully which reminds us that a woman’s lot in 18th century London was too often a vale of tears.
At London’s Newgate jail in 1756, one of the city’s most famous courtesans, Tully Truegood, is awaiting trial for murder. As her fate hangs in the balance, the former skivvy looks back on her path from pantry to prison.
It wasn’t an auspicious beginning; Tully’s mother died after giving birth and the infant was left in the care of the dissolute Captain Truegood who, it seems to Tully, begat her and promptly forgot her.
But Tully has two invaluable gifts… a beautiful body and the ability to see spirits and ‘bring back the dead to the living.’
And those gifts offer Tully a life she never believed possible when her new stepmother Queenie whisks her away to the fairy house, her notorious London house of ill repute where decadent excess is a must.
It is here that Tully becomes famous not just for her erotic artistry but also for her magic conjuring tricks. And it is here she learns that ‘No one is born a whore; circumstances more often than design cause us to trip and fall on an unseen step.’
But Tully ignores a golden rule of the successful courtesan… she falls in love with a client and ‘a broken heart is a whore’s downfall.’
Now, with the best seats at Newgate already sold in anticipation of her trial, her only chance of escaping the hangman’s noose lies with just one person...
The adorable Tully proves to be an engaging and mischievous narrator, her role as bemused, naïve observer rapidly developing into sharp-eyed cynic with her torrid tale tumbling out in a glorious confusion of hilarious euphemisms, biting truisms and flashes of the darkest, most irreverent humour.
While Tully is undoubtedly a victim of her abusive father, brutal adversaries and hard times, she is also a latent feminist, determined to find some kind of independence in a man’s world and ready to forge her own destiny despite the odds being stacked against her.
Tully’s rocky road from downtrodden drudge to confident courtesan and conjuror of spirits is itself a work of literary magic as Delaney portrays her sexual awakening with a subtle blend of explicit detail and exquisite sensuality.
There is harsh, authentic history here too but it jostles comfortably with touching romance, earthy humour and supernatural sorcery to create an exciting and diverse box of tricks.
Delicious entertainment with a dark heart...
(HarperCollins, hardback, £12.99)