2009: 43. The Seance


“If my sister Alma had lived, I should never have begun the seances.”

The Seance, John Harwood

I really, really liked Harwood’s previous book, The Ghost Writer, which was a creepy little Edwardian ghost story, one that, even though I didn’t adore the ending, I thought showed great promise, and I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to read his next book.  Alas, I was disappointed by The Seance.  It has a great premise, 19th Century spiritualism, which is infinitely interesting, and it actually tells us two stories - that of our heroine, Constance Langton, whose sister died young and whose mother was destroyed by her grief.  Constance inherits a creepy old house, and in doing so learns of the home’s tragic past, where a young woman, Eleanor Unwin was brought by her dangerous and mesmerizing husband, never to be seen again.  Constance must learn whether Eleanor was the victim of a master schemer, or whether something supernatural haunts Wraxford Hall.  

My complaint isn’t the mysterious or trickery angle, or the notion of solving a mystery from the past - both things are some of my favorite tropes of fiction. Rather, it is that there is much, much, much too much going on in this book, and it fails to tie together in the kind of neat bow that would justify all the various threads.  Instead of it all coming together neatly, I felt that the entire Constance subplot could have been excised and not been missed - we could have just heard the story of Eleanor, which overpowered the plot, making Constance seem superfluous.  I’m left thinking that Harwood has good ideas but lousy execution.

Date/Place Completed:  March 2009; D.C.

Categories:  Fiction; Library Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017