Thursday, January 29, 2009

Medium or just a girl who needs to be loved? (Books - The Seance by John Harwood)

I was just beginning to get bored with The Locked Room. I opened the book last night and had to backtrack a full ten pages until I read something I remembered - bad sign, but luckily, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt sent me a copy of The Seance, a book by John Harwood that is about to be released. It's a good old Victorian ghost story. Set in London, of course, it features Constance, who is a little girl when her younger sister dies from scarlatina. Her mother goes into a serious and lengthy depression and her father is already distant so Constance is raised by a nurse. There is a lovely section in the book's opening section in which a very young Constance walks by a Foundling Hospital and gets it fixed in her head that she must be a foundling.
I could not understand it, but nevertheless the suspicion took root and grew. It explained why Mama had loved Alma so much more than me, and why I was never any comfort to her, and even why, as I sometimes guiltily suspected, I did not love her as much as I ought to.
It is one of those things the human mind does - try to find the sense of what happens to us, even when there is none. Harwood imagines Constance's isolation from a child's point of view. It is an essential part of the plot's set-up. One day, when Constance is in her teens, her father abruptly leaves and Constance must care for her mother. She fakes a trance in which she speaks to her mother in her long-dead sister's voice and this is the first thing in a decade to wake her mother from her catatonia. So Constance begins to research seances and visits a medium for advice.
"I know it was wrong to deceive her," I said, "but Mama has been so unhappy for so long, and if only she could be certain that Alma is safe in Heaven, I think she might recover."

"You musn't reproach yourself, my dear. For all you know, it was your sister's spirit moving you to speak; you might have the true gift and not know it yet."
And that is, among other things, the question I expect this ghost story will explore. So far, Harwood has created a suitably sepia-toned atmosphere with the chill just beginning to creep in.


Katherine said...

I read this about a month ago and really enjoyed it! Very creepy book.

Eva said...

I've got this one on hold at my library so when it comes in I'll be first to read it. :) I loved his first book, The Ghost Writer!

Danielle said...

I've got this one on order from Amazon and can't wait to get it. I think I'll have to start it right away rather then putting it in the reading queue.

Ted said...

Katherine - I haven't gotten to the creepy parts yet!

Eva - I haven't read his first. If I like this one, I'll have to get it.

Danielle - I'm constantly doing that! Hence the ever-growing pile.