Wednesday 9 September 2009

Angelica by Arthur Phillips

Pages - 331

Published by Gerald Duckworth & Co in 2007

Challenges - Reliquiae, RIP , A to Z Authors and 100+ books

First paragraph

I suppose my prescribed busywork should begin as a ghost story, since that was surely Constance's experience of these events. I fear, however, that the term arouses unreasonable expectations in you. I scarcely expect to frighten you of all people, even if you should read this by snickering candle and creaking floorboards. Or with me lying at your feet.

I first saw this book over at Nymeth's blog where she had written a fabulous post about Victoriana books she was coveting. I wanted nearly all the books on the list and set about finding them in the library system. This one caught my eye first, as the idea of a Victorian ghost story sent shivers down my spine.

Angelica is a story set out in four parts, allowing each of the main characters to give their perspective on the series of events that occurred. It begins with Constance telling her side of the story. She married Joseph after he whisked her away from her lower class upbringing to allow her to live life as a lady of some means. He was the husband she had dreamed of. Throughout her marriage, Constance was desperate to give her husband a child, yet after three miscarriages and a very troubled birth of her daughter Angelica, Constance begins to fear for her life. She no longer wants to carry out her wifely duties and keeps Angelica sleeping in her marital bedroom for four years. Joseph holds his patience well, but eventually he can tolerate the situation no more and Angelica is moved to her own room.

Constance begins to despise her husband and feels he is a threat to her relationship with her daughter. Stranger occurrences begin to happen in the house and Constance feels that evil is taking over. She calls upon the help of Ann Montague, a former actress turned spiritualist to help her banish the house of the evil spirit that taunts her. On the arrival of Ann, into the house, Constance watches as her world falls apart.

This book is not what it seems. As it unfolds you begin to realise that there is more at work here than just a ghost story. This is also a psychological drama that you gradually find out the truth to as each character tells their story and the part they played within it.

The book is very dark and gives off that Victorian Gothic feel with ease. The book is very descriptive allowing you to immerse yourself in Victorian life. I always have this vision of Victorian life being dark and dirty and this does not disappoint.

There is a scene where Constance visits her husband in his place of work, where he experiments on animals for the purpose of science. The whole scene is rather horrible and it hits you rather quickly that this still happens today and we have yet to move on from experimentation on animals.

In the first part of the book, you are supposed to feel sorry for Constance. I didn't feel any empathy towards her character at all. From the start, you realise that she has very mixed emotions, causing her to be rather highly strung a lot of the time, which she finds very difficult to control. She is unaware that her behaviour may be seen as odd. I felt I could see through her to how she really was and I don't think I was supposed to. I believe I was meant to feel sorry for her.

Constance is unwilling to have sex with her husband as she believes it will kill her. Childbirth was not easy for her and this is long before the time of safe sex, yet her husband searches for solutions to alleviate the problem and to find the woman he fell in love with.

I felt complete sympathy for her husband Joseph, who is made out to be a strong, evil, beastly Italian, when really he is just a man desperate to repair the damage in his relationship with his wife and begin to build a loving relationship with his daughter.

By the end of the book, I felt very sad, watching how the events unfold and listening to Angelica's story as she enters adulthood. I felt that she was deprived of the love she deserved, due to her mother's attempts at blocking memories from her past.

This book was liking building a puzzle, where you reach the end and sit back fitting all the pieces together, only to be a little disappointed by the picture at the end. I felt a little empty by the end of the book.

I am unsure as to how I felt about the book at the end, because I am convinced that due to my skepticism I felt sympathy for the wrong characters. If I had felt more for Constance, I may have enjoyed it better. Though I will definitely read other books by Arthur Phillips, as I enjoyed his style of writing. I would be interested to hear if anyone else has read this book.

This book looks very closely at marriage, gender and class within the Victorian era, so if these subjects are of interest to you then I would definitely read it.


  1. Oh, Vivienne,shivers down my spine is a reason to grab it but am a bit disappointed you didn't come away w/ what you had hoped.

    It's good to know you will be reading more of his books. I look forward to reading more of reviews on his books.

  2. Thanks for that review, it sounds like an interesting read but then I love books set in this period.
    I know exactly what you mean about finding yourself liking the 'wrong' characters - I do it all the time which often proves for vocal conversations, especially at my book club.

  3. Hi Viv,

    Yep another one here who usually identifies with the wrong characters. I like the sound of the atmosphere of this one.

    About the BIA comment - yep it's totally her fault I want one now :D Maybe we'll see each other at Ally Pally. I'm going with Devon - she's so excited. As am I ;)

    How do you hoover up a carpet, probably the same way I managed to set my Dads old twin tub full to the brim with water on fire. It's a skill :D :D

  4. I wonder how I'll feel about the characters! Your last paragraph makes me think I will indeed enjoy it, though.

  5. Great review, but perhaps not the book for me either, I am just not sure about it

  6. What a well written review. I appreciate your honesty about the issues you had with what certainly sounds like an interesting book.

    "This book was liking building a puzzle, where you reach the end and sit back fitting all the pieces together, only to be a little disappointed by the picture at the end. I felt a little empty by the end of the book."

    In many ways this was my same experience with Her Fearful Symmetry. While I was wowed by the writing and certainly enjoyed it, I conversely had these feelings as well.

  7. I love the sound of this one. I'm going to try to get it right away, but hen it's the getting to read it that gets in the way.

    I often root for the wrong characters. If I judged myself by the fiction characters that I have supported I would be in big trouble. I guess if I see concrete reasoning and characterization that supports why someone wants something I can't help but root for the. Often times I am trying to remind myself not to do it!

  8. Wow, this sounds wonderful. definitely adding it to the list.

  9. Great review of this one. This was one book that I was glad I borrowed from the library. I wasn't very far into it, and that "cat scene" ticked me off, and that was it--i stopped reading the book. I'll never read this author.JMO....

  10. Well, I'm definitely curious about this one after reading your review! I'll have to go look for it at the library.

  11. I'm curious about this one too. I love the fact that the story's told from four different perspectives. the cover is so eerie to me.

  12. I'm so glad you reviewed this! I listened to Phillip's The Egyptologist earlier this year, and while I adored its cleverness, I wasn't sure if it might be a bit too clever for its own good! So I've been trying to decide whether or not to read this one.

  13. This seems like it would be a really sad book (like it would be a downer). I enjoyed reading your review about it.

    I just noticed that you have a scrolling blogroll in the sidebar, and I've really been wanting one. Can you tell me how to do that or where to go to find out? I'm signed up to follow the comments here, or you can email me at akreese (at) hotmail (dot) com. I would be so grateful!

  14. Thanks for the honest and thorough review.

  15. I enjoy Victorian ghostly tales. This one sounds very good, especially as you point out that it's also a psycological drama. makes it even more enticing to me. Will check it out.

    I thought that this might be something you would be interested in. An online book club for blogging mamas. :)
    I thought that this might be something you would be interested in. An online book club for blogging mamas. :)

  16. That was a really great review :)

    I really love dark and gothic Victorian novels so this sounds really good.

  17. Alyce - only just came back to see my messages. I will send you an email with the information that Nymeth sent me on how to do it. I would never be able to explain it to you.

  18. I love the Victorian Era and I liked you review. I will definitely check it out!

  19. This sounds really interesting, Vivienne! Thanks for the review!


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