Shannon's Reviews > The Seance

The Seance by John Harwood
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's review
Apr 16, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: own
Read in April, 2012

Set in England in the 1800s, this Victorian thriller had some great spooky elements, including a run-down mansion, an unexpected inheritance, thunder, lightening, and a questioned identity. The story is told through written “testaments” of several characters.

Constance Langton begins attending séances with the hope that maybe her depressed mother will be able to contact Constance’s sister, who died as a baby. However, her plan doesn’t quite work out the way she expects, and she finds herself without a father, (he had previously vacated their home), and without a mother. She goes to live with her mother’s brother, an uncle that she had never known existed.

Quite unexpectedly, Constance is informed that she has inherited Wraxford Hall, a derelict mansion with a sordid history, believed by many to be cursed. John Montague, the lawyer who delivers the news to Constance, advises her to sell the Hall, and “burn it to the ground and plough the earth with salt,” and never to live there. Of course, this only makes Constance more curious, as does the packet of writings also delivered by Mr. Montague, which contains his own testament and that of an Eleanor Unwin.

Eleanor’s testament raises even more questions for Constance. It is not a happy tale. Estranged from her mother and sister, Eleanor finds a chance at happiness with an artist. Before they are to be married, he is studying Wraxford Hall as his next project when he is killed, presumably during the terrible thunder-storm. Dr. Magnus Wraxford tries to befriend Eleanor and proposes to her himself. Knowing he will never take the place of her first love, Eleanor agrees to marry him against her better judgement. After her marriage, she feels trapped for various reasons, and begins to see her husband for who he really is. At the end of reading Eleanor’s testament, Constance has much empathy for this woman and it becomes important to her to discover the truth of what actually happened at Wraxford Hall those many years ago.

So of course, Constance travels to the country, to visit her new estate along with a bunch of men from the Society for Psychical Research. She does manage, despite the best efforts of others, to come out of the visit alive, and with clues to solve the mysteries surrounding Wraxford Hall.

The true terror provided by this story was not necessarily in the events that occurred. Rather, it can be found in the Victorian society’s views of young women, especially those who feel trapped by no money and few prospects for their future. However, the two heroines of this story did survive, not unscathed, and were able to live without fear by the end of the story.

I enjoyed this book very much. It was full of twists and turns and the different view points kept the story interesting. The characters were developed well, as was the sinister Hall. I’m usually not much for ghost stories, but I loved the Victorian setting and the gothic and supernatural elements of the story. I’m definitely interested in reading more of this author’s work.

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