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Monday, February 21, 2011

The Spiritualist by Megan Chance

The Spiritualist is a bit of a mash-up: nice girl/bad boy romance, mystery, spiritualism.  I read Chance's An Inconvenient Wife a couple of years ago and felt some of the same dissonance (difficult to decide whether or not you like the characters).

The rise of the cult of Spiritualism fascinates me, and I was drawn to the book for two reasons:  I like this kind of Victorian Gothic mystery, and I'd read two nonfiction books about the Fox sisters (who are actually mentioned in the novel).  (Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism by  Margaret Weisberg and Exploring Other Worlds: Margaret Fox, Elisha Kent Kane and the Antebellum Culture of Curiosity by David Chapin.

Although some reviews have praised Chance for the historical detail, I'm not sure that I found the detail that authentic.  The apparent acceptance of middle-class  Evelyn (Evie) Atherton into New York society was not likely, and although the acceptance was less genuine than Evie believed, I still find it difficult to believe that she would have been comfortable with the creme de la creme of N.Y. bluebloods.  Especially since she attended events without her husband....

Evelyn's father was an investigator, but Evelyn doesn't seem to have learned much about the business.  Her character seems to vacillate back and forth.

OK - quick summary.  Evelyn's husband is murdered after a Seance, and she is eventually charged with his murder.  Who killed her husband and why?

It was an interesting read, but somehow a bit affected. 

The devotion of the members of the small circle who attended the frequent spiritual gatherings led by the handsome and charismatic medium Michel Jourdain does fit historic accounts.  Believers were dedicated and often contributed large sums and expensive gifts.  William James studied spiritualism and was generally supportive; Nobel-laureate physiologist Charles Richet was a convert; Arthur Conan Doyle was also a believer.

None of the characters in the novel were entirely positive, which is an interesting take.  Also, one angle or complication involving the relationship between Jourdain (the medium) and his patron is left ambivalent, leaving the reader with a prurient curiosity.

  Sooo...what do I think, overall?  Megan Chance likes to keep things a bit edgy.  Feelings about the characters are often a little uncertain.  It certainly kept me reading.

I did like The Seance by John Harwood better, though.

Fiction.  Mystery/Suspense/Supernatural.  2008.  419 pages.


  1. Totally agree with you on the review! And, I know times were different back then and all but didn't you think she was so completely naive when it came to finding out about her husband? I mean, something had to be going on! I did enjoy it and I think I was probably very forgiving as I just like the time period and the spiritualism stuff.

  2. I read An Inconvenient Wife a few years ago -- probably on your recommendation! -- and it sounds like I felt much the same about this author as you did. I liked her, and I definitely liked the setting, but I thought the book could have been better.

  3. I was rather liking this, but then it got predictable and now it is taking forever for finishing it!

  4. Iliana - Right, a woman from that time would probably have suspected a mistress rather than a gay relationship, but she would have suspected something.

    Jenny - Chance doesn't follow the expected route in a novel, does she? She throws in situations and relationships that disrupt expectations. An Inconvenient Wife was better as far as historical info goes, though. This one has the same kind of strange marriage and weird triangle.

    Kailana - I didn't find it riveting, either. Kind of plodded on through it.

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and you are spot on about Chance liking to "keep things a bit edgy". I think that's one of her strong suits. I also enjoy feeling uncertain about characters. Dorothy and Michel's relationship still has me wondering ...

  6. Annie - :) Exactly! And then adding Evie to the mix...!

  7. I might check out The Seance. It is a topic that fascinates me a lot as well. I read already some books dealing with it but they were mostly unsatisfactory.

  8. Caroline - None of the novels about Spiritualism are ever quite right, but I liked The Seance. The nonfiction about the topic, however, is almost always fascinating!

    Annie liked The Spiritualist better than I did and has some great pics of the Fox Sisters and some other recommendations at Buttery Books--here and here.