Despite 21st century thinking, today many people still try to communicate with the spirit world at séances via mediums. In the 19th century the public was fascinated by spiritualism despite it being increasingly debunked by scientists. Laura Purcell has captured this interest in mesmerism and spiritualism in her latest Gothic, historical novel “The Shape of Darkness”.
Set in Victorian Bath the struggling protagonist, gentile Agnes, a 41 year old single feeble woman, tries to scrape a living to keep her nephew, Cedric and her mother from the workhouse. With the advent of photography, her profession of cutting silhouette portraits is declining as ‘shades’ are falling out of fashion. Her livelihood is further threatened by tragedy and death, which is striking her more recent customers; hence she fears for her reputation and personal safety.
Her only support is that of her over protective brother in law Dr Simon Carfax, husband of her deceased sister Constance, who seems intent on keeping her an invalid. Against his advice, Agnes seeks the help of the spiritualist ‘The White Sylph’, Pearl, an 11 year old girl born with albinism, to contact the victims with a view of unveiling the murderer and stopping future deaths.
The author has often been likened to the prolific Daphne Du Maurier; however this book shows a more individual style. It is a murder mystery, which has supernatural overtones; some readers might find it a little melodramatic. Many, on the other hand, will enjoy this page turning novel about violence, grief and coercive control set against a Victorian backdrop of grime, poverty and social inequality. The twists and turns in the final chapters will keep readers totally engaged.
|Distributor||Bloomsbury Children's Books|