The Seance
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The Seance

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3.54 of 5 stars 3.54  ·  rating details  ·  3,409 ratings  ·  506 reviews
A haunting tale of apparitions, a cursed manor house, and two generations of women determined to discover the truth, by the author of The Ghost Writer Sell the Hall unseen; burn it to the ground and plow the earth with salt, if you will; but never live there . . .” Constance Langton grows up in a household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in perpetual mourni...more
Hardcover, 328 pages
Published February 3rd 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2008)
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karen
okay it is high time i remove myself from the victorian gothic for a little while - everything is blurring together... this one was fine, not great. there was just something a little cartoony about it - big house, hidden passages, suits of armor, harnessing lightning, mesmerism... the usual. good rainy day book though.
Michael
Review from Badelynge
The Seance by John Harwood is set in the 1880s and is the story of Constance Langton. She becomes involved in spiritualism in an effort to lift her mother from the crippling grief of losing a child. Constance, due to the lack of regard and love from her parents has always had the nagging feeling that there is some mystery about her heritage, believing herself to be a foundling. Through diaries and journals and the aid of a world weary solicitor called Mr Montague she discove...more
Hannah
Aug 09, 2011 Hannah rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Hannah by: Amy S
I rated John Harwood's debut novel, The Ghost Writer, 2 stars, but this second novel is definitely a big improvement, and kept me interested (and creeped out) the entire time I was reading it.

The Seance is certainly a send up of all the classic Victorian gothics of the 19th century, (without all the flowery and overly melodramatic dialogue). Harwood's prose is almost flawless in it's execution, and he is a master in drawing the reader into an implausible world and making them believers in it.

Fro...more
Nancy Oakes
"sell the Hall unseen; burn it to the ground and plough the earth with salt if you will; but never live there." This is the advice to Miss Constance Langton from John Montague, the solicitor who as advised Miss Langton of her inheritance of Wraxford Hall.

The Seance is set in Victorian England, and Constance Langton has lost her mother and her cold and distant father has moved away. Living with her uncle, she notices an advertisement asking her to reply. It is then that she learns she has inheri...more
Tony
There is a good story here but it is buried beneath the tedium of excessive Victorian pleasantries and feints too clever for their own good. The late Nineteenth Century setting is perfect for this sort of story as superstition and mystery are still commonplace although being gradually worn away by the advance of science and technology. The characters attempt to provide rational and scientific explanations for phenomena but retain the hopes or beliefs that something supernatural may account for t...more
Harry McKinley
I always think the sign of a good book is when one reaches the end and feels a sense of loss that the experience of reading it is at an end. Note I said GOOD book and that's my problem believe it or not. This book was good but should have been great.

With subject matter like seances and manor houses, Victorian London and mysterious deaths and visitations this book should have been sinister, gripping and dripping in atmosphere but unfortunately it lacked the ambience and thrills one expected. The...more
Blair
After a somewhat dry and uninspiring start, this book developed into an excellently crafted and superbly chilling cross between a period mystery and a ghost story. I was impressed with the author's handling of both plot and characterisation; though the narrative is composed of personal accounts written by different characters at different times, it flows perfectly, and the ending ties up a great deal of loose ends without seeming implausible. The only thing I was unsure about was the juxtapositi...more
Joe Valdez
May 14, 2014 Joe Valdez rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Insomniacs, restless spirits, dead tired readers
Shelves: abandoned
I made it as far as page 34 before giving up on The Seance. I can't tell you if the novel gets around to dealing with the supernatural in a practical way, or is more about a teenage girl dealing with spiritualism and the death of her sister in London of the Victorian Age.

It wouldn't make any difference to me if this was a classical ghost story or not if the story grabbed me. Either Hardwood is a tedious writer, or his editors approved the first 50 pages being tedious.

The entire novel reads like...more
Diane
John Harwood's debut novel The Ghost Writer was one of those novels that will go down as a favorite of mine, so naturally when Harwood's second novel , The Séance, was recently released, I could not wait to read it.

The Séance is set in Victorian England and has all the elements which make for a great gothic mystery. There is a cursed run down mansion, a ghostly suit of armor, lightening bolts that strike out the blue, apparitions and other strange phenomena.

Constance Langton is introduced early...more
Hilary
Almost the best thing I can say about this book is "I liked the cover". It's a pastiche of the great Victorian Gothic novel, with overtones of Wilkie Collins. Sadly, the great Victorian public had more patience and more time on their hands than I do, and had also been less exposed to popular culture (there having been less of it around at the time) and were thus possibly less able to predict every. Last. Word of the storyline. There are no twists and no surprises: it does exactly what it says on...more
Barb
This was a dark, suspenseful, atmospheric, "gothic" tale, complete with ghosts, mysterious disappearances, a haunted house and a tragic death or two.

John Harwood carefully builds his mystery by offering the reader the history of Constance Langton's childhood. Her sister, Alma, died when she was not yet four years old, her mother, devastated by the loss, never recovered enough to develop a loving relationship with Constance. As a young woman Constance inherits Wraxford Hall.

The Hall is believe...more
Guido Henkel
“The Séance” is a wonderfully mysterious novel set in Victorian England. It is an utterly enchanting read that draws the reader into its magic and then takes them on a ride of apparitions and spooky encounters.

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 main characters. Told in part through diary entries - much the same way Bram Stoker fashioned his classic “Dracula” - the story unfolds over var...more
Cheryl
Excellent mystery in the style of Wilkie Collins. The plot kept me guessing until the end, and the characters were well developed. It has some supernatural elements in it, but I wouldn't call it a horror story. Worth reading!
Uncle
John Harwood’s The Seance reads like a Victorian “sensation novel”, one reminiscent of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. As in any good “sensation novel”, The Seance has imperiled heroines, menacing yet charismatic villains, creepy places, emotional extremes, and violence. The novel’s compelling plot is worthy of an exciting Victorian “pot-boiler”.

The Seance weaves together the three narratives of Constance Langton, Eleanor Unwin, and the lawyer John Montague.The three share an unlikely conne...more
Kelly Hager
This is a hard book to describe, so I'm just going to steal the jacket description:

"Constance Langton grows up in a household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in perpetual mourning for Constance's sister, the child she lost. Desperate to coax her mother back to health, Constance takes her to a seance: perhaps she will find comfort from beyond the grave. But the meeting has tragic consequences. Constance is left alone, her only legacy a bequest that will blight her life.

So begins T...more
Lori
Mar 09, 2009 Lori rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Suspense, Gothic, Victorian
Just as it appears Winter may be releasing the shores of Lake Erie from its death grip, I have found the perfect late autumn/winter read. In The Seance, John Harwood has recreated the best aspects of gothic dread. As in Harwood's freshman novel, The Ghost Writer, a major character in this story is a place: the decrepit Wraxford Hall...permeated by the stain of a violent past and filled with ominous secrets.

The troubled young woman who inherits Wraxford Hall has also inherited abilities as a spir...more
Brad
Meh. It was ok for passing the time, but I won't be recommending it to anyone. The Victorian setting is suitably ominous for a possibly supernatural mystery. The Victorian obsession with spiritualism provides a nice undertone of part skepticism part belief. The story never quite reached a properly spooky tone, however. I never felt like any of the characters were in serious danger, except perhaps during the brief climax which is followed by such a lengthy and comparatively dull denouement that t...more
Amy S
One of the best things about reading this book was that I knew almost nothing about the plot. Everything that unfolded was a genuine surprise to me, so I am going to do my best not to reveal too much here. Our heroine grows up searching for love and the answers to the mysteries of her past. One of these mysteries leads her to Wraxford Hall, where she is told, "sell the Hall unseen; burn it to the ground and plough the earth with salt if you will; but never live there."

The book is set in Victori...more
Ashlyn Hunt

The Séance was a case of mistaken judging-by-cover. I proclaim that I'm savvier than buying a book based on the design of its marketing leaf, so I must add that I did read the synopsis, as well. But it mislead me too.

John Harwood is a beautiful writer - he truly captures landscape, and is gifted in the art of description. But the plot itself was over-processed with a very large finale fizzle. I felt that the story was humdrum. The Victorian research was brilliant and even the story had potentia...more
Martin Belcher
The Seance is a ghost story wrapped inside a murder, wrapped inside a disappearance and a mystery linked to the horrors of the Wraxford family.
This ghost story/ murder mystery is a mix of Agatha Christie meets M R James and Charles Dickens. It is expertly told in several different narratives from inter-connected characters and principally through Constance Langton whose gloomy life with her grief stricken mother in 1881 is brought to a startling change by a chance meeting and an attendance at a...more
Natalie
For a girl, growing up in the Victorian era has its own difficulties, but for Constance Langton things are far more ghastly than properly worn bustles and guarded reputations. Her mother is in an everlasting state of mourning over the loss of her youngest daughter Alma and her father is as detached, cold and indifferent as a wet fish. Forlorn, Constance makes a desperate attempt to bring her mother peace by arranging a séance’ which leads to Constance finding herself all alone in the world.

An un...more
Paula
The Séance tells the stories of Connie Laughton, John Montague and Eleanor Unwin, individuals who are all connected to the bleak Wraxford Hall, a place shrouded in mystery since the disappearance of John Wraxford in 1821 following the death of his son, Felix in 1796 who fell from the gallery above the Great Hall. John Wraxford's body was never found and history repeats itself when Cornelius Wraxford disappears without a trace in 1866, to the eventual disappearance of Magnus, Eleanor and Clara Wr...more
Clarice
This story was told in 6 parts by 3 different characters. I really enjoyed the narratives of the two female characters, but found John Montague's narrative rambling.

Constance Langston’s first-person story of her lonely childhood and strained relationship with her parents in Part 1 was perfectly paced and seemed to be building up to something really interesting.

John Montague’s narrative started out with much atmosphere and promise of strange and exciting mysteries to be revealed in Part 2. Unfor...more
Steph
The Seance follows Constance Langton in her search for idenity and answers to a lost past and mystical gifts. When bequeathed an ancient family home with a sordid past, rooted in murmurs of alchemy and horror, Constance uncovers the truths for which the redemption of several generations hangs in the balance.

Those of you who have read Harwood's debut novel, The Ghost Writer, will not be surprised to learn that The Seance is filled with enough suspense and bone-chilling moments to satisfy any got...more
Catherine
I really enjoyed the author's excellent use of multiple narrators. The various narrations rested in each other like nesting boxes and each moved seamlessly into the other.
What I also so hugely appreciated is that the author grasped the reader's intelligence. Maybe it's what I've been reading as of late but I'm sick to death of being pound over the head by whatever details the author deems significant.
No words are wasted in "The Seance" and just as much, there's no over simplification or charact...more
Shaun
Victorian England is the perfect place to hatch a ghost story and thus an ideal setting for John Harwood's, The Seance.

The book is written in six long sections and starts with Constance Langton's narrative. Constance is a young woman who has always felt disconnected from her family and is in the midst of dealing with a mother who has been devastated by the untimely death of Constance's toddler sister more than a decade before. Constance is eventually compelled to seek the advice of a spirituali...more
Janet
John Harwood really knows how to write the perfect gothic ghost story. He's got all of the elements - a decaying mansion in a spooky, isolated wood, a damsel (or two) in distress, charming villains, journals that appear at appropriate times to give readers pieces of secrets to help unravel the mystery (or to throw out red-herrings) ... He writes great gothic characters who converse as if Wilkie Collins gave them the words. He creates an atmosphere of gloom and describes scenes with pitch perfect...more
Amy Andrea
Dec 27, 2012 Amy Andrea rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Taylor Wise
Recommended to Amy by: No one
I think this book is a good read if you like a slow paced mystery novel. Even though the novel is slow moving, I still rated it a 4 out of 5. The reason for my high rating is because I believe John Harwood did an excellent job of creating a sense of mysteriousness throughout the setting, characters, and presentation of the story.
The overall setting takes place in England and the way the author describes the countryside is always bleak and dismal. His description enhances the mood and general to...more
Sira Yvonne
Jul 06, 2010 Sira Yvonne rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys mystery and a bit of horror
Two generations trying to find truth and essentially love in their own ways. A young Constance, trying to aid her depressed mother, attends a seance. Soon after, the horrific past of her family proves to not just be a rumor but very real and very dark. She is given an abandoned hall that is plagued in mystery and only she holds the keys to the truth of what happened there.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It has bits of horror and mystery and is set in my favorite era. I felt pity and pain for...more
Sariah
A gothic mystery set in the late Victorian period. Constance Langton inherits an old manor house from a distant relative. The manor in question has been the scene of several mysteries deaths and disappearances through the years. The woods that surround it are believed to be haunted. Like a true Victorian mystery, the story is told through various first person accounts recorded in diaries and letters. The story is interesting and held my attention throughout but, something was lacking. By the end...more
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What happened exactly? 6 58 Apr 28, 2014 09:29AM  
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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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