John Harwood’s The Seance is an elegant and faithful recreation of a good old fashioned gothic ghost story full of spiritualists, occult detectives, family secrets, madness, and mesmerism. Harwood has distilled the essence of 19th century gothic literature and its concerns and fears into a single atmospheric novel.
The Séance follows a young woman, Constance Langton, who becomes embroiled in the world of séances and mediums in an effort to help her mother deal with her grief. The result is tragic and sets Constance on a path that leads to an old crumbling estate and a tale of secrets, twisted science, ghosts, and murder. Harwood follows the gothic narrative conventions to the letter and the novel is presented as a series of nesting accounts that cover decades of events and obscure as much as they reveal.
Constance is an intelligent and capable gothic heroine, certainly mores than any of the other characters, with a deep and palpable sadness at her core. The plot resolution is perhaps a little rushed and occasionally confusing, and the terrible villain does not make quite as terrible an impression as intended. Nevertheless, The Seance is a delightful and atmospheric ghost story that perfectly captures the atmosphere of its forbearers.
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