The Seance Paperback – Oct 12 2009
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About the Author
John Harwood is the author of two previous novels of Victorian Gothic suspense. Aside from fiction, his published work includes biography, poetry, political journalism and literary history. His acclaimed first novel, The Ghost Writer , won the International Horror Guild's First Novel Award. He lives in Hobart, Australia.
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Top Customer Reviews
THE GHOST WRITER and THE ASYLUM .I can't wait to read them.
John Montague, the family solicitor for the Wraxford estate, has sought Constance out to tell her that she is indeed the principal beneficiary and the sole heir to Wraxford Hall. The property is heavily encumbered with debt, the news forcing Constance to reflect on her own difficult circumstances, her estrangement from her uncaring father, her mother dead from heartbreak, and her sister Alma's sudden death. Only through Constance's encounter with the local spiritualist society and the comforts that the séances can bring can Constance lift the burden of guilt and self-reproach.Read more ›
I *think* I liked this book. Trouble is, is that I'm still not entirely sure what happened. The book is divided into sections and each section is narrated by a different character. It wasn't too difficult keeping track of the characters, instead it was a little taxing trying to keep a proper timeline in one's head (as each section in the book takes place at a specific time/year). As I said before, I liked this book because the story was interesting. Great ideas and great background stories, but a little hard to fully comprehend. If you enjoy reading paranormal-based stories, you'll probably enjoy this book. I think I may have to re-read this one to fully appreciate it.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
`The Seance' is John Harwood's second novel and is set in Victorian England. Events unfold through pages of narrative seen from the perspectives of three of the story's main characters: Constance Langton, John Montague and Eleanor Unwin.
Constance's distraught mother is inconsolable following the death of Constance's sister. In desperation, Constance and her mother attend a seance in the hope of providing some much needed comfort. John Montague is a barrister and amateur artist who is charged with tracing the heir of Wraxford Hall. Montague decides to commit the hall to canvas and on taking up his brushes, finds himself suffused with artistic powers that he had not, previously or since, possessed. Eleanor Unwin suffers from blinding headaches and an overbearing mother. Her headaches are the result of so-called visitations from the dead.
The social niceties of the time are particularly well drawn in the women's narratives and journals. Unchaperoned ladies and unsuitable husband material are almost as much to be feared as the manor house that binds the various characters. Eleanor's toxic mother is especially outraged when marriage to an artist threatens to heap social stigma on her family.
The scenes in and around Wraxford Hall are deliciously creepy. The weather-staples of Victorian mystery stories - the bone-chilling cold, swirling mists and lightning - are much in evidence as the protagonists attempt to uncover the secrets that they and the house share.
If you've already enjoyed John Harwood's excellent first novel, The Ghost Writer, or, if Victorian-era mystery stories are your thing, you won't want to miss `The Seance'. This is a compelling and highly atmospheric novel from a superb writer.
The tale is told in six parts, made up of narratives by three of the story's main characters. It is a ghost story (or is it?) with a mystery at its heart.
Family secrets abound, along with murder, blackmail, a sinister suit of armor, and a decaying old mansion that holds secrets of its own. The story was interesting enough to keep this reader turning pages (though not anxiously).
A word here about the pace of the story: for me, the most enjoyable fiction adheres to the "show, don't tell" rule. "The Seance" is heavy on the telling, which slows the pace considerably, without necessarily building suspense. Thus, the three star rating.
But this is simply a matter of taste. Many readers may find the detailed descriptive passages add to their enjoyment. Those readers should be especially pleased with this mostly satisfying tale.
Utilizing a mechanism that's been explored many a time and is not as easy to nail as it probably appears, the story is told almost entirely through several first-person narratives, starting with who I think of as the main character, Constance Langton, who has found herself the heir to the manor house in question, Wraxford Hall, to several others who add to the background detail before come back around to Constance.
The pacing is slow and steady, blissfully devoid of the booms and tricks so common in ghost stories today, yet so absorbing that you're drawn in as surely as a moth to the flame. Constance herself is an almost flawlessly drawn character, and the reader is transfixed immediately by the life of sorrow and loss she suffers at an early age - a lost sister, a hopelessly bereaved mother, and a cold, distant father. Very much alone in a world that wasn't particularly kind to a young girl trying to find her place in it, Constance's quiet courage and determination to find truth, whatever the cost, made her a character worth spending time with.
For any lover of a classic and elegant ghost story, this is just what the doctor ordered.
The most striking thing about the book is its voice. Very restrained and personable, the first-person narrative puts one right in the head of the man characters. Told in part through diary entries - much the same way Bram Stoker fashioned his classic "Dracula" - the story unfolds over various generations and through varying viewpoints as we learn about a strange family curse. Stylistically, this is the most delicately written book I have read in a long time, yet at the same time it is exactly this delicacy that makes you shudder at times, as evil perspires through the narrative and the characters slowly dive into the mysterious unknown that lies before them.
I have loved every minute of "The Séance" and cannot stop but shower it in praise. This is heartfelt, atmospheric gothic horror at its best with fine nuances and cool plot twists.
The story is told in 3 different viewpoints , Constance Langton, one of her ancestors named Eleanor Wraxford, and an attorney John Montague who is subtly involved in both women's lives and is able to bridge part of the mystery that Constance is trying to figure out about Eleanor. Although the story is also told in different time periods, it wasn't confusing for me. In fact, it lent itself to the mystery.
What I really found interesting is that the controversy of mediumship in The Séance can stand true in today's standards as well. Constance tries to contact her younger sister for her mother's sake hoping it will give her comfort. She noticed that "Most of the sitters were determined to believe whatever the medium told them." Huh, interesting. Constance also challenged a skeptic "Why deprive them of the comfort a séance can bring?" The skeptic told her because it is a false comfort. Science is also discussed as well as Spiritualism and how the two may connect. This debate still continues.
Constance is an innocent, trusting woman grown from a child who always felt unloved and guilty because of the death of her younger sister. She inherits not only Wraxford Hall from a distant relative but the mystery that surrounds it and a long ago scandal. Step by step Constance pieces together events until she is led to the truth. I love her tenacity and I loved seeing her getting stronger and more strong willed as the story progressed. She put herself in situations that a very young woman of her day would typically not in order to uncover events.
I felt immersed in that time period due to the author's use of language, events, behaviors and small details. It is very authentic to me and I kind of felt it was in a Jane Austen kind of style.
The only thing I had a problem with was visualizing the Hall of Wraxford House where the experiments of the eccentric owners and the séances took place. I felt as if I was missing something. However, I got the gist of it so it wasn't as if the scenes and descriptions weren't believable or they had continuity issues, I just couldn't see it. However, the gothic and sinister mood of the house and how it affected the characters is very clear. There is definitely a lot of creepy parts that satisfied my spooky needs.
The ending is bittersweet in some respects but ultimately happy. Constance doesn't get everything she wants, but it is clear that she is on her way to a happy life.