An upper-class woman recovering from a suicide attempt, Margaret Prior has begun visiting the women’s ward of Millbank prison, Victorian London’s grimmest jail, as part of her rehabilitative charity work. Amongst Millbank’s murderers and common thieves, Margaret finds herself increasingly fascinated by on apparently innocent inmate, the enigmatic spiritualist Selina Dawes. Selina was imprisoned after a séance she was conducting went horribly awry, leaving an elderly matron dead and a young woman deeply disturbed. Although initially skeptical of Selina’s gifts, Margaret is soon drawn into a twilight world of ghosts and shadows, unruly spirits and unseemly passions, until she is at last driven to concoct a desperate plot to secure Selina’s freedom, and her own
This was a book club book, my choice actually. I had just finished The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters and very much enjoyed it. But this....this was not good. It was dreary, boring, grey, and all but plot-less.
It wasn't until the last twenty pages or so I even knew what the plot was, or where it was going. The MC Margaret is naive, sad and a bit spoiled and her love interest Selina is an obvious con artist. I give props to this novel being about lesbians in Victorian England but that's about it.
The most interesting parts were when the MC goes to the prison and is taken around the gaols and talks to the prisoners. This was where the dreary worked and made good atmosphere for the novel, but then they introduce Selina and I couldn't stand her character or the MC fascination with her character. Ok, so she's a "spiritualist" who says she was wrongly accused of the crimes of fraud and assault. The girl next door arrested for seeking an abortion was much more interesting.
The ending was depressing and a little out of nowhere. I won't put in spoilers but I wasn't too surprised, just more in awe that the writer took such an obvious twist and couldn't be bothered to do something more unique.
The novel is told from two POV Margaret and then Selina's diary. Though the insert of the diary entries was a confusing way to introduce information about Selina (red herring) as Margaret never reads the diary and it wasn't introduced as evidence in Selina's trial.
All you need to know about this novel is that it was written because the author was currently doing research on spiritualism and didn't have a good time writing it. This just goes to show how subjective the literary world is and how an already established author can get almost anything they write published.
Two stars; simply because I loved some of the scenes and women in the gaols.