The Welsh Fasting Girl

352 pages

Trade Paper

List Price US $16.99
ISBN: 9781942658627


ISBN: 9781942658634

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“Varley O’Connor’s beautiful and brilliant novel takes us deep into the mysteries of virtue’s conspiracy with evil and the human spirit’s war against itself. With spot-on historical detail and scintillating language, the novel fascinates and moves us, and uses the story of a nineteenth-century Welsh farm girl to deliver cogent insights into contemporary issues regarding gender and family.”

Stephen O’Connor, author of Orphan Trains and Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings

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“In this richly textured and compelling novel, Varley O’Connor proves to us that human desire is never simple and that our noblest wishes sometimes provoke our darkest deeds.”

Mary Morris, author of The Jazz Palace and Gateway to the Moon

“I became enthralled as the mystery of a young girl’s death by starvation unfolds, revealing layers of secrets about family life amid religious and cultural conflicts. Varley O’Connor is a splendid storyteller.”

Lynne Sharon Schwartz, author of Disturbances in the Field and Two-Part Inventions

“At the center of Varley O’Connor’s novel The Welsh Fasting Girl is a single, horrifying question: what happens when an idea becomes more important than a person—and what happens when that person is a girl? . . . A searing critique. . . . It is one of the only places I have been reassured, in literature or otherwise, that when our morbid wonder towards eating problems ends, our understanding of the individual’s pain might begin.”

Barrelhouse Magazine

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“O’Connor takes the story of Sarah Jacob, one of history’s most noteworthy fasting girls, and turns this 150-year-old tale into a freshly poignant commentary on family dynamics and the treatment of women.”

Miracle Monocle magazine

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“The real miracle lies in the capacity of Sarah’s singular, dark fate to illuminate the socioeconomic, religious, scientific, philosophic, and political cultures and conflicts of [the] time. . . . A transcendent historical novel.”

Foreword Reviews (starred review)

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“A moving, masterful story. . . . O’Connor’s recreation of this world and its people is haunted and haunting, with marvelous poetry and human sorrow resonating in every line.”

Historical Novels Review

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“O’Connor’s poignant tale addresses numerous relevant and timely issues, from cultural anxiety to female empowerment or the lack thereof, and the painful and often tragic condition of eating disorders.”


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“[A] moving novel. . . . O’Connor’s bleak, powerful story serves as an affecting homage to a girl whose community failed to protect her.”

Publishers Weekly

“Fascinating yet sad. . . . Utterly compelling to read.”

Shelf Awareness for Readers

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“Riveting. . . . One of those novels that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after the book itself is finished.”

Midwest Book Review

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Twelve-year-old Sarah Jacob was the most famous of the Victorian fasting girls, who claimed to miraculously survive without food, serving as flashpoints between struggling religious, scientific, and political factions. In this novel based on Sarah’s life and premature death from what may be the first documented case of anorexia, an American journalist, recovering from her husband’s death in the Civil War, leaves her home and children behind to travel to Wales, where she investigates Sarah’s bizarre case by becoming the young girl’s friend and confidante. Unable to prevent the girl’s tragic decline while doctors, nurses, and a local priest keep watch, she documents the curious family dynamic, the trial that convicted Sarah’s parents, and an era’s hysterical need to both believe and destroy Sarah’s seemingly miraculous power.

Intense, dark, and utterly compelling, The Welsh Fasting Girl delves into the complexities of a true story to understand how a culture’s anxieties led to the murder of a child.

Foreword Reviews “Book of the Day” selection

Excerpt from The Welsh Fasting Girl

Listen to Varley O’Connor share the fascinating historical true story behind her novel The Welsh Fasting Girl on Biblio Radio and read more from her interview at Heights Libraries.