The Man in the Picture

When Oliver visits his former professor Theo Parmitter at Cambridge University, he thinks that they will be spending time just as usual – sitting by the fire, having nice conversations and drinking whisky. Oliver always enjoys listening to Theo’s stories, but this time, the old professor is about to narrate a strange and disturbing tale that will change Oliver’s life forever. The story begins and ends with a Venetian picture – a painting that hangs on Theo’s wall. It depicts a masked crowd at the Venice carnival. If you stare at the picture for too long, you can see strange things happening. It seems to draw you into itself so that you feel like becoming a part of the Venetian scene.  There’s just something odd and mysterious about that picture and the old professor is ready to reveal its gloomy secret. 

Theo has acquired the Venetian picture at an auction when he was younger. He just knew that he had to buy the painting because it fascinated him. Little did he know that this intriguing painting would have such strong impact on other people’s lives. The professor was very content with his new purchase and he often stared at the picture in awe. The years have passed and Theo’s life went on as usual, and nothing of importance happened. However, one day, he received a letter concerning his beloved painting. The letter was from a Lady Hawdon, a Countess who wished to see him and talk to him about the Venetian picture. Therefore, the professor decided to pay her a visit in order to find out what Lady Hawdon had in mind. When he met the old woman, she made clear that she wanted to buy the picture at any cost. Nevertheless, Theo didn’t want to sell the painting, even when Lady Hawdon told him a horrifying tale – a frightening story connected to the Venetian picture. A dark secret lies behind that alluring picture but what does Oliver have to do with it? 

Susan Hill’s Victorian ghost story is an enjoyable quick read – perfect for a winter day (or night). The Man in the Picture tells a strange story of loss, love and revenge. Even though this ghost story is not as frightening as The Ghost Writer or The Séance by John Harwood, it is still a haunting tale! I really liked this book, thus I recommend it to everyone who loves a good ghost story and to everyone who enjoys reading Gothic Fiction. 

I would like to thank Vida Engstrand from The Overlook Press for sending me a copy of this lovely book!

The Séance by John Harwood

The Séance by John Harwood

Constance Langton’s childhood takes an unhappy turn when her younger sister Alma dies at the age of two. Her mother goes into mourning and hardly speaks to anybody, and her distant father ignores her and eventually abandons the family. Since she feels unloved and neglected by her parents, Constance begins to think that she might have been a foundling. However, her questions remain unanswered because the girl has no one to confide in. She often feels alone and she can’t bear to see her mother so unhappy, therefore, Constance wants to find a way to cheer her mother up and to put an end to her pain. Thus, one day, Constance pretends to be taken over by Alma’s spirit and tells her mother that she is in heaven. The girl thinks that her mother will finally be able to go on with her life and to stop mourning, now that she knows that Alma is in heaven. Constance’s mother, however, seems to become obsessed with the idea of hearing Alma. Thus, the two attend a series of séances where Constance continues to pretend to be her sister. Her mother seems to be happy and she even smiles sometimes, but she is no longer content with only hearing Alma; she also wants to see and hold her. In desperation, Constance decides to take her mother to a séance held by a group of charlatans. There, her mother is convinced that she has really seen her beloved Alma and after all these years of grief, she finally seems to have found peace. But when Constance’s mother commits suicide after this event, the girl is shattered and she begins to blame herself for her mother’s death. Since her mother is gone, Constance is all by her self and she feels hopeless and lonelier than ever. Much to her surprise, Constance soon learns that a distant relative has bequeathed her entire estate to her. The protagonist finds out that the estate consists of Wraxford Hall, a derelict manor house in the English countryside. The decaying mansion has an obscure reputation: once, people have mysteriously disappeared there and other sinister things have taken place. Still, Constance doesn’t seem to be deterred by Wraxford Hall’s sombre history. She is determined to find out everything about the decaying mansion and about her distant relatives in the hope that she will learn more about herself. While she tries to unveil the dark secrets of Wraxford Hall, she becomes more and more convinced that she has indeed been a foundling, as she feels a strong connection to Wraxford Hall’s former residents. As the protagonist digs deeper into the mysterious events surrounding the decaying mansion, she finds herself entangled in a web of secrets, lies and deception. Thus, Constance needs to be careful, as in this world of illusion, nothing is quite as it seems and hidden dangers await her.

The Séance is an accomplished second novel from a very talented author; this compelling tale pays homage to Victorian Literature and to Victorian ghost stories. John Harwood has created a captivating world of intrigues, mysteries and dark secrets. The reader will enjoy this suspenseful ghost story, as the author has successfully managed to capture the language and spirit of the Victorian period and in addition, he has provided us with a well-constructed plot and fascinating characters. The Séance will appeal to readers who enjoy Victorian ghost stories and gothic tales and I recommend this novel to everyone who is interested in the Victorian Era. I am a huge fan of Victorian ghost stories, thus I must say that I loved this spellbinding tale! I really liked reading about Wraxford Hall, with its secret passages and hidden chambers, and I loved how the author has used the elements of a classic ghost story in this engaging novel (haunted houses, stormy nights, skeletons in the closet, dark mysteries and secrets, etc.). All in all, The Séance is a terrific Victorian ghost story and therefore, a must read for ghost story lovers!

I would like to thank Mariner Books for sending me a copy of this engaging novel!

 

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

When Elspeth dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to Julia and Valentina, her twin nieces. The girls live in Chicago and they have never met their aunt; they don’t know anything about her, as their mother Edie doesn’t want to talk about her sister. They only know that Edie and Elspeth are also twins and that they have been estranged for the last twenty-one years. So when the girls receive a letter stating that Elspeth has bequeathed her entire estate to them (with two conditions: they must live in the apartment for an entire year before they may sell it and their parents are not allowed to set foot in the apartment), their parents are not happy about it. They don’t want Julia and Valentina to leave and they are concerned about the fact that the twins will soon live on their own in a foreign land. Nevertheless, the girls are thrilled and can’t wait to embark on the biggest adventure of their lives. So when they turn twenty-one, Julia and Valentina excitingly head to London. There, they are delighted to find out that their aunt’s apartment is overlooking Highgate Cemetery, where George Eliot, Karl Marx and other famous people are buried. The twin girls like to live in London and they become accustomed to their new freedom and come to know their new neighbours. Julia and Valentina meet Robert, their aunt’s former lover, who still mourns over Elspeth’s death, and Martin, who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder and never leaves his apartment. As the girls soon become entwined in the lives of their neighbours, they also find out that they’re not alone in their apartment: Elspeth’s ghost is trapped there and tries to communicate with the twins. Having made this enthralling discovery, the girls are determined to unveil Edie and Elspeth’s secrets and to find out why the two have been estranged for such a long time. However, what they don’t know is the fact that this whole experience will change their lives forever!

Audrey Niffenegger has created a unique and haunting story about love, identity and rivalry and she has provided us with a tale full of mysteries, secrets and twists. Her Fearful Symmetry is beautifully written and suspenseful; its fascinating scenery and well-constructed plot capture the reader’s attention and the reader is immediately caught up in a world of deception and darkness. I really enjoyed reading about London and the historic Highgate Cemetery and I liked the characters, since they are original and well developed. Furthermore, I liked the fact that the novel contains gothic elements and I was intrigued by the relationship between the twins. The novel skillfully captures an intense and oppressive atmosphere and its dark setting will remind you of a Victorian ghost story. All in all, I really liked this novel and I recommend it to everyone who likes to read dark ghost stories!

I would like to thank Amanda McPherson from Regal Literary Inc. for sending me an advance reading copy of Her Fearful Symmetry!