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The Séance

2 Ratings: 4.5
historical fiction by John Harwood

Growing up with a distant father and a mother in perpetual mourning for a lost child, Constance Langton takes her mother to a séance hoping to help her find peace, only to be left alone to deal with a legacy of a decaying mansion in rural England.

Author: John Harwood
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Date Published: 2009
1 review about The Séance

"Sell the Hall Unseen... burn it if you will."

  • Feb 2, 2009
  • by
Rating:
+4
(3.5) Harwood's novel suffers from the realities of the era in which the drama takes place, late 19th century England. While scientific discoveries accelerate, so does the public obsession with mesmerism and spiritualism, superstition and the urgency to reconnect with the dead. The eerie and ghost-riddled becomes freighted with grieving people's inability to come to terms with the mortality of loved ones, charlatans happy to relieve the suffering of their money. Mediums proliferate in a society anxious for news of their dead loved ones. But young Constance Langton knows none of this as she imagines the Underworld of favorite stories beneath the floorboards of the family's kitchen. Since the death of Constance's baby sister, Alma, her mother has been prostrate with grief, a distant father drifting into his own world, little concerned with anything but the most rudimentary welfare of wife and remaining daughter.

Both mother and daughter are emotionally isolated, society deeming the affairs of men superior to the domestic concerns of females. When Mr. Langton eventually leaves the household to reside with his sister, Constance remains to care for her mother. Desperately hoping that a medium might provide comfort to her mother- even though she understands that séances are but performance- Constance sees an opportunity to bring the woman some peace of mind. The result is tragic. Later, to avoid living with her father, Constance resides for a time with a bachelor uncle, where she learns of an inheritance, Wraxford Hall. Thus, from a lonely, sad childhood, Harwood delivers his protagonist to the next phase of her life and the mystery that pervades Wraxford Hall.

Two narratives contribute to Constance's fascination with her inheritance and the people involved, those of solicitor John Montague and Eleanor Wraxhall, whose memory is tainted with accusations of murder. Drawn to the mysteries of Wraxford Hall, Constance immerses herself in a haunted estate, murder and mesmerism, blackmail and betrayal, believing herself an integral part in a dark domestic drama. Unfortunately, the prose is as bleak as the era, Constance enduring the pain of her youth only to fall into a more sinister landscape- and some danger to herself. This ponderous Victorian drama cannot break free of the monsters that haunt the tale, a hapless female bravely surviving the consequences of her curiosity. Luan Gaines/2009.  

The Seance

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The Seance, John Harwood
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