Captivity by Deborah Noyes (Canada) - (USA)
Pages: 352 pages
Finished: May 30, 2010
First Published: Jun. 1, 2010
Publisher: Unbridled Books
Genre: historical fiction
A bell is tolling for me, Clara thinks, awakened in her chair by the wind.
Acquired: I actually, accidentally, ended up with 2 Review Copies of this, one from the publisher above and the other from Canadian distributor, McArthur & Company.
Reason for Reading: The Victorian era is my favourite time period to read about and I always find the Spiritualist movement fascinating, in that famous, intelligent people were some of the most hardy believers.
Set in the 1830s to 1850, this is a tale of two stories. First is based on the true life story of The Fox Sisters who could talk to the dead through rappings and virtually were the beginning of the entire Spiritualist movement. Secondly, is the story of Clara, 40 or close to, spinster who lives with her aging father. She has made herself reclusive for many years after the scandalous ending to a short but passionate affair of the heart. The main character from each story eventually meet but the point of view continues to switch back and forth from one person's tale to the other's.
I had a hard time getting into this one. I struggled through the first hundred pages not because they were hard to read but because I found the Fox sisters devoid of character. There are three of them. Alice, the youngest, starts out as a main character but eventually drifts to the background and is not ever given any personality for the reader to hold any opinion of her whatsoever. Alice is replaced by the eldest sister, Leah, who is the stereotypical mean, bossy, all business older sister and while we are given an outline of who she is, that is all the reader has to go by and no personality shows through that one doesn't feel for her either good or bad. The sister who is given the protagonist's part is middle sister, Maggie, and it takes an awful long time for her character's development to attain the point of having her own personality. Thus making those first pages hard for me to get through.
On the other hand, I was taken with Clara's story right away. She is a woman "of certain age" whose father, after many years of it being just the two of them, has started to bring round a widow who is obviously insinuating herself into her father's graces and trying to interfere in Clara's solitary, reclusive lifestyle. Clara goes back to the 1830s and slowly tells the story of her first (and only) love, the terrible tragedy and why she has ended up stowed away in her own room for so many years. This is what kept me reading for those first hundred pages.
Clara's story eventually meets the present and Maggie and Clara meet. At this point the two stories are still told separately but the characters from each story now overlap. It is also at this point the pace picked up for me. Maggie became an interesting person with depth. Not until the end of the story do we get to see the inside workings of Maggie's seances but we see the drain they have on her and both her feelings of pleasure and pressure at having to perform.
Ultimately though, this is a story of unrequited love and bitterness. Clara has three spinster aunt's who try desperately to marry her off, while she has no interest. Then once her affair of the heart has broken her they become nasty and mean-hearted to Clara for she had what they never did. Maggie also finds herself a man who is devoted to her but he is a gentleman and he wants her to choose between her scandalous lifestyle and him. Then there is Leah, in the background, who always has a different husband. These women think they need a man (or needed a specific man) to set them free but they all hold themselves captive by there own doings. A man's love will not set them free. They must set themselves free first, then they will be at liberty to love.
The second half of the book was really good, kept me turning the pages and I'm glad to have read the book. An interesting look inside one of the more unusual fads of the Victorian era.