Combined Reviews: The Seance by John Harwood

seance.gif Reviews of The Seance
John Harwood
Random House

[This novel won the Best Horror Novel award at the 2008 Aurealis Awards.]

From the publisher's page:

The breakthrough novel from one of Australia's finest writers -- a gripping story of ghosts, betrayal and murder in Victorian England "Sell the Hall unseen; burn it to the ground and plough the earth with salt, if you will; but never live there." London, the 1880s. A young girl grows up in a household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in perpetual mourning for the child she lost. Desperate to coax her mother back to health, Constance Langton takes her to a seance. Perhaps they will find comfort from beyond the grave. But that seance has tragic consequences. Constance is left alone, her only legacy a mysterious bequest will blight her life. So begins The Seance, John Harwood's brilliant second novel, a gripping, dark mystery set in late Victorian England. It is a world of apparitions, of disappearances and unnatural phenomena, of betrayal and blackmail and black-hearted villains -- and murder. For Constance's bequest comes in two parts: a house, and a mystery. Years before a family disappeared at Wraxford Hall, a terrifying stately home near the Suffolk coast. Now Constance must find the truth behind the mystery, even at the cost of her life. Because without the truth, she is lost.
Lucy Atkins in "The Times": "Harwood's well-received 2004 debut, The Ghost Writer, drew heavily on the 19th-century ghost story. Now, with The Seance, he plunges us headfirst into the genre. Wilkie Collins would be proud: this is a Victorian world of mesmerism and spirits, vapours and delirium, doomed inheritances, shivering maids and spooky visitations in the night...As befits the form, there are narratives within narratives -- a tricky structural task that requires a large suspension of disbelief."
Sinclair McKay in "The Telegraph": "Harwood, like the authors he pays such elaborate tribute to, is fond of tangled family trees and great sprawling dynasties. Given the relatively fast pace of the novel, this is occasionally disorientating. But half the pleasure of this sort of fiction comes from this complexity, and from the flavourful evocations of Victorian vicarages, solicitors' offices and filthy London streets...the whole thing boils down to the old questions of inheritance and property that underpinned practically the whole of Victorian fiction. And that's what really makes it such an entertaining read."
Andrew Taylor in "The Independent": "Harwood manipulates his characters' -- and readers' -- emotions. Even when he appears to provide a comfortably mundane explanation, he has a nasty habit of revealing the terrifying uncertainties that lurk in the shadows. Its publishers compare The Seance to the work of MR James and Sarah Waters; true, Harwood has an unerring feel for the mores and language of late-Victorian England. But there are closer parallels in the fiction of Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle, both of whom were fascinated by the disputed borderland between the claims of the paranormal and the techniques of Victorian science."
Judith Flanders in "The Telegraph": "Harwood builds up tension with a series of embedded narratives that slowly unravel...The interweaving of professional mediums, haunted mansions and sceptical ghost-hunters is so efficiently done that it is only intermittently that the reader pauses to wonder at the neatness of the documentary evidence."

Short notices
Georgia Gowing in "The Independent Weekly": "There aren't too many surprises in the story and it is fairly low on the fear factor, so it won't keep you awake at night. But Harwood has researched both the period and the world of mediums meticulously, making for an entertaining novel in the best gothic tradition."
"Tangled Web UK": "Perfect fire-side reading: finely written, historically fascinating and very spooky."
Brooke Brunckhorst on "M/C Reviews": "The Seance is a mildly spooky, pseudo-Victorian pastiche in which one can almost hear the sound of pedals turning as the author rides his penny-farthing wildly to keep the whole thing afloat (to mix metaphors, and possibly periods)."
"Matilda" review.

Video interview on the Barnes and Noble studio site.
Interview by Samela Harris in "The Advertiser".

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 28, 2009 11:11 AM.

2009 Michael L. Printz Award for Young Adult Literature was the previous entry in this blog.

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