Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Seance by John Harwood

Constance Langton has known tragedy in her young life. Her younger sister died as a toddler and her mother never recovered from that loss. Her father was a very distant, and absent, man who offered no affection for she or her mother. In her quest to draw her mother out of her melancholy, Constance decides to fake the act of channeling her dead sister's spirit. Unfortunately for Constance, nothing good can come of that. On another note (and in one of the story's more awkward shifts), a very distant cousin dies and leaves a deserted mansion to her closest living female relative, Constance. The lawyer arrives to tell her about her inheritance and leaves her with some good advice: sell the property, enjoy what money is left from paying it's debts, and NEVER go there. The lawyer ends up leaving her a pack of papers detailing his association with the creepy house and its very strange succession of former owners and this nested storytelling makes up the bulk of the book. As you can imagine, the two stories blend toward the end of the novel but in a somewhat heavy-handed manner.

I tried again for a scary book to count towards the R.I.P. Challenge with The Seance and again I lost that battle. I do not blame John Harwood for this especially. There were good characters here and an interesting, if somewhat convoluted premise. The main problem I had was that this book was eerily similar to Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, which I loved. I will leave it to Mr. Harwood and Ms. Waters to duke out that one, but TLS is clearly the superior of the two, exhibited not least by the fact that it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize just a couple of weeks ago. In comparison, The Seance was somewhat unwieldy and inelegant. I do plan to read his other title, Ghost Writer, because I did like The Seance. I just did not find it to be very scary.

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