Tuesday 12 January 2010

2) The Seance by John Harwood

Pages - 294

Published by Vintage Books in 2009

Challenges - Our Mutual Read Challenge.

First paragraph

January 1889

If my sister Alma had lived, I should never have begun the seances. She died of scarlatina, soon after her second birthday, when I was five years old. I remember only fragments from the time before she died: Mama dancing Alma on her knee, and singing as she would never do again; reading my primer aloud to Mama while she rocked Alma's cradle with her foot, walking beside Annie our nurse while she pushed the perambulator past the Foundling Hospital with me holding on to the frame. I remember coming home after one of those walks and being allowed to nurse Alma by the drawing room fire, feeling the heat of the flames on my cheek as I held her. I remember too - though perhaps I was only told of it - lying in a cot and shivering, looking up a ta window which seemed very small and far away, and hearing the sound of weeping, muffled through thick cotton wool.

The book follows the life of Constance Langton and you are to believe from the blurb on the back that she is the main character throughout the book. Unfortunately, you would be completely mistaken, because a quarter of the way through the book the story goes off in a completely different direction and you are left wondering what the hell is going on. I lost my concentration as soon as the story moved onto a part which at that point had no relevance to the first part of the book.

That sounds a bit harsh, doesn't it. I did enjoy parts of the book. I enjoyed the parts where Constance got involved with seances in order to appease her mother's troubled spirit. Constance believed she was doing the right thing to help her mother recover, only to find out that her actions caused an adverse reaction.

After her mother's demise, Constance moves in with her uncle and finds out that she is to inherit Wraxford Hall. At this point, the book moves onto the story of John Montague, the lawyer who has full control of the hall. His story covers the previous inhabitants of the hall and their unusual disappearances. John Montague then gives Constance a journal that belonged to Eleanor Unwin, who was one of the people who disappeared, after being accused of murder.

I didn't mind the change in story, I just got a little lost with it and struggled for awhile to see the relevance of it. Luckily at the end, the book comes back to Constance's viewpoint, where the different parts of the story are brought together and all loose ends are tied. The book was generally rather good, I just felt it was a little disjointed.

The main character Constance, was rather willful for that time period and seemed to put herself in situations that were not suitable during that era. At one point, she stayed alone with Edwin in the hall overnight, which was something that would definitely have been frowned upon.

If you are looking for ghosts in this book, you definitely won't find them. This book ridicules the art of seances during the 1880's and opens up the box of secrets used during them.

It has all the darkness and shadows lurking in the background that you would expect in a Victorian novel, however it is lacking a thrilling storyline, of which I have come to expect in this type of genre.

The most sinister thing in this book is actually Wraxford Hall. It comes across as a dark and disturbing place, that perhaps should be pulled down, in order for its cursed lifestyle to be destroyed. It reminded me of some of those old buildings you watch being investigated by ghost hunters on programmes like Most Haunted.

On the whole, I am not sure how much I liked this book. It was OK, but it didn't thrill me in the way I expect Victorian Gothic novels too.


  1. Only ok you say, hm, well perhaps if I find it I will have a look.
    Nice review

  2. Oh I hate when that happens! It would have to be one of the best books I've ever read if it misled me like that because I'd spend the rest of the story being irritated.

  3. A great cover, such a shame it sounds like the book doesn't live up to expectations. I hate it when a story goes off at a tangent leaving you wondering what is happening.

  4. The cover is great, but I think I'll skip the book. I'm confused enough without reading a book that I can't follow!

  5. I hate being dissapointed by books. Does sound a bit of an odd way to do it.

    BTW No - ours s such a small library it only opens half days and in all this snow sometimes hasn't been opening so have still been sitting shivering in my own house.

    However I didn't think to get out loads of homemaking books from there rather than just sigh over them on my wishlist. I'll be going over here with a list when it opens ;) Thanks vivienne.

  6. I read and reviewed this one too awhile back. I enjoyed it but I agree with your points. It did go off in many directions.

  7. That's funny, because the whole reason I would have avoided it was the seances (that scare the wits out of me even in books).

  8. I love the cover on your copy! I have this book somewhere in the stacks and have heard some mixed reviews about it. I love stories with seances and that sort of thing so I may give it a go but my expectations are definitely not very high - maybe that'll help :)

  9. Oh, I'm SO SAD by your review, because I was ready to run out and by this based on the cover alone!

  10. Oh no! Sorry this turned out to be a let-down!

  11. Blodeuedd - I wouldn't go looking for it. I have heard his other book Ghostwritten is actually the better of the two.

    Ladytink - I hate to get mislead too.

    Petty Witter - I found myself rereading parts just to figure out what was going on.

    Amanda - I had been so looking forward to it as well. Never mind.

    Bermudaonion - you are funny!

    Carmen - definitely go the library to get them, rather than buying them. Then you can photocopy any patterns you want.

    Michelle - I am glad I wasn't the only one to feel this.

    Diane - I think I will still try Ghostwritten as I have heard better reviews about that one.

    Alyce - this one really isn't scary at all.

    Illiana - if you have it,then you have to give it a go. Quite a few people liked it, so you might find that you do too.

    Aarti - I think that was the problem, I was far too attracted to the cover!

    Nymeth- never mind. Always more books out there to read.

  12. I enjoyed this one more than you. :) But it wasn't as good as Ghostwriter! And I'm a fan of nested stories that move back and forth in time, so I think that helps. hehe

  13. Eva - I will definitely read Ghostwriter as I have heard it is much better.

  14. Sorry to hear you didn't love this one. I bought it a while ago but haven't had a chance to read it yet.


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