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The Seance - review

Well, I think there should possibly be a National Holiday declared in celebration of me finishing this book: I thought the day would never come! My course is now complete, so luckily my reading won't be shelved for a word count and references ever again - WOOHOO!

The Seance may have taken me three weeks to complete, but what I found was an enjoyable, if flawed, novel of Victorian mystery.

Set in the 1800's, the book is told in three viewpoints; Constance, Eleanor (Nell) and John Montague. Each of them giving their own insight into the overarching narrative of the novel, the "Mystery of Wraxford Hall". The hall is a place of alchemy, scientific experiment and unexplained disappearances, and, most lately in it's history, murder. Surrounded by myth and legend, and secluded from civilization by a thick forest, nobody quite knows what happened to any of it's inhabitants...

Constance starts the novel. She is a lonely girl coping with her mother's severe bereavement at the death of her baby - Constance's sister, Alma. To help her mother cope, Constance encourages her to visit a spirit medium so that she can make peace with Alma's death. During the sessions, Constance pretends (or does she?) to channel Alma's voice, comforting her mother temporarily. However, having "heard" Alma, Constance's mother falls further into a depression and eventually takes her own life, leaving Constance to live with her Uncle, an artist. It is here, many years later, that Constance is approached my a Mr John Montague, who informs her she has inherited Wraxford Hall from distant relatives she never knew she had...

John Montague, a solicitor, is the second narrative of the novel. He recounts his own past experience at Wraxford Hall to Constance as a warning to her. He wants her to sell the property without ever seeing it, and live well from the proceeds. His story is full of hauntings, first hand experiences of previous owners' disappearances and, most unsettling, death at the Hall. Through John Montague we are introduced to Magnus, the heir of Wraxford Hall. Magnus is a mesmerizer, fighting to have his mesmerism practice recognised by medical science. He asks for John Montague's word: to enter Wraxford Hall in a legal capacity if anything "unusual" should happen during a forecast thunderstorm. When a servant of the house appears in John Montague's office speaking of a disappearance, John Montague holds true to his promise...

The third narrative is that of Nell, a clairvoyant terrified of her own visions and desperate to be rid of them. She seeks Magnus' help for treatment to rid herself of her "visitations" and eventually ends up marrying him. Years later, in Constance's narrative, she is wanted for the murder of her husband and her baby daughter, Clara...

Phew, that was a lot to get down! I have to say that the story of The Seance was intriguing and the characters were very believable. I was swept along for the ride and really felt the looming gothic presence of Wraxford Hall from some wonderful descriptive pieces. However, there was quite a drawback to the book for me.

The whole novel felt very fractured. In Constance's first narrative I was welcomed into a story that was deeply ingrained in death, loneliness and the measures bereavement will push you to. It was an interesting chapter of false seances preying on the grief of others, and the blind hope of those unable to cope with loss. However, by John Montague's narrative, everything had changed, it was now a story of hearsay... of alchemy, science, mind control and unfounded accusations. By Nell's narrative, we had been transported into an almost Jane-Austen-like tale of a down-trodden heroine looking for love. I never knew quite where I was with this book!

Perhaps it was my own disrupted reading of this book that added to the above, but I do feel that there was no theme strong enough to carry this novel into any specific genre. Perhaps "thriller/mystery" would do, but I found the ending to be too predictable to recommend it to thriller fans! Especially as the rest of the book was quite gothic-ghost-story-esque.

So all in all, I enjoyed reading The Seance, and will probably look to read more by John Harwood, but I did feel the book struggled to hold my attention at some points, due to wandering themes. The characters however, were well constructed, and I loved getting to know them :)

7/10 - Interesting start and great characters,  but lost it's way for a predictable conclusion.

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