An upper-class woman recovering from a suicide attempt, Margaret Prior has begun visiting the women’s ward of Millbank prison, Victorian London’s grimmest jail, as part of her rehabilitative charity work.
Amongst Millbank’s murderers and common thieves, Margaret finds herself increasingly fascinated by an apparently innocent inmate, the enigmatic spiritualist Selina Dawes.
Selina was imprisoned after a séance she was conducting went horribly awry, leaving an elderly matron dead and a young woman deeply disturbed.
Although initially skeptical of Selina’s gifts, Margaret is soon drawn into a twilight world of ghosts and shadows, unruly spirits and unseemly passions, until she is at last driven to concoct a desperate plot to secure Selina’s freedom, and her own.
She has a Ph.D. in English Literature and has been a lecturer with the Open University.
Sarah is the author of six novels, Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, Fingersmith, The Night Watch and The Little Stranger, which have been adapted for stage, television and feature film in the UK and US.
Her novels have been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Women’s Prize for Fiction and she has won the Betty Trask Award; the Somerset Maugham Award; The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award; the South Bank Show Award for Literature and the CWA Historical Dagger.
Sarah has been named Author of the Year four times: by the British Book Awards, the Booksellers’ Association, Waterstones Booksellers; Stonewall’s Writer of the Decade in 2015; Diva Magazine Author of the Year Award and The Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence in 2017, which is given in recognition of a writer’s entire body of work.
She was awarded an OBE in 2019 for services to literature in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
To pigeon-hole this book in any single genre is really difficult, as it would sit equally well as either a historical mystery/thriller, or a gay/lesbian novel, without being offensive in either.
This one is certainly not for you, if you are looking for a light-hearted, uplifting to read, or an ‘escape into’ story, with a happy ever after ending. Just the opposite. This a deep, multi-layered, mysterious and intricate storyline, which is actually fairly disturbing, dark and even depressing.
It is however a brilliantly written, well constructed and researched book, which draws you in from the very first page and doesn’t let you go again, until the very last word has been finished.
This unconventional, unique and darkly gothic tale of power and possession, that really makes you want to believe in ‘magic’, the further drawn into events you become, brings into stark relief the societal mores of the Victorian era, dealing as it does with lesbianism and suicide, during a period in time when the punishment for either such act, would have been horrific, particularly if you were a ‘lady’, thus immediately transforming the book into a heart-wrenching, profoundly touching love story, for which there can never be a good outcome.
The author writes wonderfully visual and descriptive narrative and dialogue, with total confidence, compelling authority and desperate intensity and compassion, which kept me on the edge of my seat and not realising just how quickly I was turning the pages.
The story is alternatingly told by Selina and Margaret, who are so well described and developed, as to almost be in the room with me as they speak. So emotionally complex, multi-faceted, raw and passionate, yet unimaginably vulnerable and so totally distant that I was unable to connect with either of them on any level.
I must admit that I never saw the twist in the end coming and had thought it would conclude in quite a different way; but it worked just right in bringing the saga to a natural conclusion, although it did rather mess with my mind!
A paperback edition of this book for review and promotional purposes, was purchased by me from my local charity shop.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 4 out of 5 stars!