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The Seance. A Novel Hardcover – 3 Apr 2008

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape; First Edition edition (3 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224081861
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224081863
  • Product Dimensions: 14.3 x 2.6 x 22.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 731,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


''The Séance' reminds us that the real horrors lurk within the reader's mind'
-- Andrew Taylor The Independent

'A brilliantly atmospheric dark mystery...Try this if you like being scared out of your wits' -- Daily Mail

'Harwood ratchets up the tension like a skilled violinist playing a rising note...sinister mesmerism, murder and trickery.' -- Rachel Howells, The Big Issue

'Wilkie Collins would be proud.' -- Lucy Atkins, The Times

'[Readers] will devour The Seance in a sitting' -- Sunday Times

'he can write as elegantly and often as scarily as M. R. James...a horrific excess a la Monk Lewis' -- Lucy Sussex, The Age

`enjoyable homage to the Victorian ghost story ... tantalising ... an exhilarating read'
-- The Tablet


'John Harwood's brilliant second novel, a gripping, dark, mystery set in late Victorian England' --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Foggy Tewsday VINE VOICE on 1 Jun. 2008
Format: Hardcover
It is sometimes remarked that inanimate objects can have such a strong presence within a story that the object almost becomes one of the characters. I think this is certainly true of the sinister Wraxford Hall. This crumbling manor house has accrued its reputation down the years thanks to its eccentric inhabitants and its location. Its spooky setting amidst overgrown grounds and the surrounding sprawl of woodlands, known as Monks Wood, has caused the local poachers to pursue their game elsewhere. A pack of vicious hounds is said to roam the area and the ghost of a monk is believed to haunt the woods. Anyone who sees the spectre is reputed to die within the month.

`The Seance' is John Harwood's second novel and is set in Victorian England. Events unfold through pages of narrative seen from the perspectives of three of the story's main characters: Constance Langton, John Montague and Eleanor Unwin.

Constance's distraught mother is inconsolable following the death of Constance's sister. In desperation, Constance and her mother attend a seance in the hope of providing some much needed comfort. John Montague is a barrister and amateur artist who is charged with tracing the heir of Wraxford Hall. Montague decides to commit the hall to canvas and on taking up his brushes, finds himself suffused with artistic powers that he had not, previously or since, possessed. Eleanor Unwin suffers from blinding headaches and an overbearing mother. Her headaches are the result of so-called visitations from the dead.

The social niceties of the time are particularly well drawn in the women's narratives and journals. Unchaperoned ladies and unsuitable husband material are almost as much to be feared as the manor house that binds the various characters.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Catherine Murphy on 18 Jan. 2009
Format: Hardcover
It's nice to say that John Harwood has maintained in "The Séance", his second novel, the same high standard for creepiness that he set in his first, "The Ghost Writer".

This time Harwood has gone the whole gothic hog, setting the story in Victorian England and beginning with the story of Constance Langton, who in true Bronte style, is lonely and neglected by her parents after the death of her sister Alma as a young child. Constance takes her mother to a séance, hoping to cure Mrs Langton's malignant grief, with tragic results, then learns she is the benefactor of an eccentric relative's will and has inherited Wraxford Hall, a place with an equally tragic past and reputation for being haunted. Through the séance, Constance has come into contact with Vernon Raphael of the Society for Psychical Research. Raphael asks that he and his colleagues be allowed to investigate Wraxford Hall and determine if there are really any supernatural influences and also to solve the mystery of a previous owner's death and the disappearance of a young woman and child, a mystery that Constance believes may explain her own unhappy past.

This is not the kind of book to start reading in the bath, in case you find yourself still immersed, prune like and freezing, several hours later. It should be enjoyed before a crackling fire, the curtains securely drawn, the wind and rain lashing at the windows and a comforter wrapped tightly about your person.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By sykander on 23 July 2014
Format: Paperback
I'll start by saying that I enjoy this style of writing: it perfectly evokes the Victorian/Edwardian period, and presents the atmosphere apt for an historical murder mystery.

But several things prevent this from being a four-star review or higher. Firstly, the characters, although are mostly very well realised, do tend to be much of a muchness. All the women are fearful of their mothers, often unable to hold their own in a conversation or argument, and show some significant weaknesses that don't really endear them to you. I know that women weren't exactly in a position of power 150 years ago, and that the reality of life for many was to be quiet and obey, but we don't want to read just about that: we want fire, intelligence, ambition in a character. We want them to step outside of the norms. We don't want to root for needy wrecks, exactly what is portrayed here.

Secondly, there are quite a number of paragraphs that are far too purple for my liking, add nothing to the telling and merely slow down the narrative. These could have been cut out quite nicely, which leads me on to point three: this book needs a re-edit. Not just to cut down the length, but to address at least two technical flaws that I spotted: including the journal issue mentioned by another reviewer.

My final thought is that although the mystery is solved, and nothing about it is overly outlandish, it does feel as though the author spun himself a complex web, but wasn't entirely sure how to unravel it cleanly: so, the final section of the book does witter on a little in terms of trying to explain what happened and why, and brushes aside and shuts down any police investigation in a very cursory way. It left me feeling a little dubious. They say the start and ending of a book are the most difficult parts: I wonder how many sleepless nights finding an ending to The Séance gave its author?
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By doigy on 13 May 2008
Format: Hardcover
Think 'The Woman in White' mixed with something by the Brontes and you'd be on the right lines. If you really enjoy a thrilling classic gothic Victorian novel, then you'll relish this. I really enjoyed reading this book. I've already read The Ghost Writer by the same author - it was good but I definitely prefered this one.
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