Friday, September 23, 2016

John Harwood's The Seance: Review

I think John Harwood must be a fellow Vincent Price fan. I caught shades of The Haunted Palace, and the suit of armor mechanism screams House on Haunted Hill. William Castle used these kinds of tricks to great effect in his films, and they certainly added to this modern novel written in the neo-gothic style of Wilkie Collins. But ultimately, the best parts of the novel were parts that left me wanting more, with the meat of the tale being disappointingly familiar.

Image result for vincent price haunted palace
Read The Seance and tell me with a straight face this isn't Magnus.
This tale is broken up into several narratives. As an ardent fan of Dracula, I don't shy away from epistolary novels, but here it was not done to great effect. The glue holding the different threads together - John Montague's narratives - were the most unoriginal of all. The voices in between were not distinct enough, and often confused me in terms of where and when they intersected. I was forced to flip through pages to recall their significance to each other.

The best parts were absolutely the beginning, which held great promise in how Constance is exposed to Spiritualism, and how she comes to participate in its practice. As a scholar of Spiritualism, with a monograph on the subject forthcoming from SUNY Press, I was positively inspired to see what I read as a perfect fictionalization of the records I'd buried myself under for several years. The passages dealing with true experience and questions of sanity were particularly compelling. Those introductory plot developments, however, are all we get of this, which then turns quickly into an unfortunately standard tale of the gothic mansion and decaying family. Nell's narrative of a mesmeric maniac comes close to some of the better parts of Stoker's Lair of the White Worm, and the ending comes back again to Constance, but the earlier threads were left on the floor to rot. So very,very sad. Had she been the sole protagonist, and the plot the story of her life thereafter without Montague ever having set foot on her doorstep, the book, in my view, would have been much the better for it.

Image result for paranoiac film
I would still suggest this for people who are not as well read in the genre as I am, perhaps it would not come off as overdone. Similar reads that might yield better responses: The Moonstone, Lair of the White Worm, "The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward." Or, you could always watch some Vincent Price. You'll never go wrong there. Those unafraid of subtitles, or wanting a better treatment for the haunted monk trope - look for Klaus Kinski in The Black Abbott, or read The Monk by Matthew Lewis (true Gothic fiction). Any number of M.R. James's short stories will do. Hammer Horror fans: seek out Paranoiac by any and all means.

K Rating: 7/10.
Image result for gothic mansion mezzotint
No matter how many tragedies are set there, I'd still live in a place like this

No comments:

Post a Comment