Originally published: 9 July 2020
Author: Julie Cohen
Published by: Orion Books
Length: 345 pages
Reading dates: 30 Jun- 3 July 2020
Three women carry unspeakable truths in their heart. At what cost will they find their freedom?
It is 1858 in Wiltshire, England and Viola has just married her childhood friend Jonah after the death of her father. She is struggling to recover from the grief she feels. Having to vacate the vicarage where she grew up, they move to Portland in Dorset, determined the sea air will help her recover. Viola and Jonah’s marriage is a sterile affair – Jonah isn’t able to make love to her, won’t talk to her about what troubles him, and their relationship is more like brother and sister.
Mrs Henriette Blackthorne is a spirit medium, well known in certain circles for communicating with the dead, holding seances for groups of people. She arrives in Weymouth and Jonah and Viola attend one of her events. Jonah is singled out by Flora Bell, Henriette’s spirit guide who appears to know of someone Jonah has lost.
We then learn a little more about Jonah’s history. Born in India, he was sent to the UK for schooling which is how he comes to know Viola. While back in India in 1857, sorting out the affairs of his father, he meets a young Indian scholar Pavan and they feel a strong connection. We hear how Jonah was caught up in the Indian Rebellion in which many people died and we hear how he became known as the Hero of Delhi for his role in rescuing a young British girl.
Viola is a talented amateur photographer, taught by her father and returns to her love of photography in an attempt to distract her from her worries about her marriage. She discovers a talent for capturing ghostly images on camera after taking a picture of a dead child as a keepsake for her father and seeing a ghostly image next to the bed where the child lays. Henriette is drawn to Viola because of these spiritual images. As Jonah becomes more distant, the bond between the two women soon grows stronger.
Spirited is a wonderful book – historical fiction, spiritualism and strong female relationships all in one place! Cohen is a talented writer who can cross genres effortlessly and I love that her books are so completely different. The characters were fantastic – it was great to read about women who perhaps weren’t the norm back in Victorian England. Photography wasn’t considered a suitable hobby or profession for a woman and likewise, not many women supported themselves without a husband like Henriette.
I found the whole subject of spiritualism really interesting although I’m not sure how I’d feel to see a ghostly image on a photograph! As Viola becomes known for her ability to capture spirits in her photographs, she realises what a comfort it is for people who have lost loved ones, to see their spirit live on.
Weymouth is somewhere I have visited, and I could easily picture it in the 1850s. I especially loved the scene when Viola and Henriette go swimming using the bathing machines that were popular at the time.
The amount of research that must of gone into this book is astounding: to research historical details of both England and India, the very complicated process of taking and developing photographs as well as the spiritual aspects, and bring it all together requires a talented writer.
Evocative and imaginative, with strong character development, exploring themes of gender, sexuality and prejudice, Cohen is a writer who is going from strength to strength. Highly recommended from me!
Thank you to Orion Books for my gifted copy for review as part of the blog tour and to Anne for having me. Don’t forget to check out these other awesome bloggers!
About the author:
Julie Cohen grew up in the western mountains of Maine. Her house was just up the hill from the library and she spent many hours walking back and forth, her nose in a book. She studied English Literature at Brown University and Cambridge University and is a popular speaker and teacher of creative writing, including classes for The Guardian and Literature Wales. Her books have been translated into fifteen languages and have sold nearly a million copies; DEAR THING was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. Julie lives in Berkshire with her husband, son and a terrier of dubious origin.