Sunday, May 27, 2012

the seance

I loved the first half of The Seance. It had me under its spell-- I loved the characters, the setting, the creepiness, and the structure, and each new mystery only made me read faster-- but unfortunately, the last 1/3 of the book was a big letdown. 

But let me go back to the start: The Seance begins with young Constance lamenting her sister's death. Alma was very young and their mother has taken the death very hard. She won't leave the house, her health is poor, and she can think of nothing but her grief. Thinking it might comfort her, Constance explores the world of psychics and seances. Soon enough she is faking visits from Alma to appease her mother's pain . . . But this is all just set-up for Constance's character. Her story really begins when she is contacted by a solicitor, Mr. Montague. Constance has inherited a large, decaying mansion named Wraxford Hall with an eerie, mysterious past: numerous owners of the house have disappeared; a young boy died there; it is said to be haunted by a monk; it has many lightning rods attached to it for experiments/safety; etc.

This is when Constance's story stops for a while. The middle of the book is entirely made up of documents given to Constance by Mr. Montague. So the structure of the book goes like this:

- Constance
- Mr. Montague's narrative
- Eleanor Unwin's narrative
- Mr. Montague's narrative (again)
- Constance

Obviously, Mr. Montague and Eleanor's stories heavily feature the mysteries of Wraxford Hall.

Although the beginning of the story felt a little rushed, I understood why later (because Constance's story isn't so important). But the middle section was great. I was completely absorbed reading about Magnus Wraxford (a friend/clint of Mr. Montague) and his crazy uncle, as well as Eleanor Unwin and her creepy "visitations." I was all set for a good ghost story and a shocking, exciting explanation for all that lead-up.

That's when the story fell apart for me. It was a huge let-down to learn the truth behind the mysteries. I was expecting something scary, but what I got was just a very needlessly complicated, unbelievable, bland explanation. Such a disappointment! This book had great potential. When I was midway through, I was already excited thinking I'd found another 4-star read. I just wish Harwood would erase the ending and come up with something better.

If you're looking for a good Victorian story, look to Sarah Waters instead. Her novels Fingersmith and Affinity are amongst my favorite books of all-time.

TITLE: The Seance
AUTHOR: John Harwood
VERDICT: 3/5 stars.

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