by Deborah Noyes
The Fox Sisters were mediums who communicated with the dead in the mid-19th century via rappings; their enigmatic abilities eventually led to the birth of the Spiritualist movement. The story of their meteoric rise is interwoven with a tale of loss and grief, as a reclusive spinster named Clara Gill hides in her father’s home after her heart was broken many years before. She slowly opens up to Maggie Fox, a domestic servant in her house. As the Fox sisters’ abilities become known, Maggie is subject to intense scrutiny by the media, and even Clara doubts she can truly speak with the dead. As the Fox sisters grow in wealth and fame, consulting with the rich and famous – even the President of the United States – Clara begins to wonder if her friend really speaks with the dead.
The book is infused with ambiguity. It’s never made clear if the Fox sisters are charlatans or if they genuinely think they’re in communication with ghosts...let alone whether the spirits themselves are real. The historical Maggie Fox, late in life, confessed to faking the spirits’ raps but recanted her confession a year later. In this fictional account, it’s much harder to tell. It’s clear that many aspects of the girls’ “act” is illusion, but Maggie and her sisters also seem certain that they truly communicate with unseen ghosts.
Deborah Noyes has a very beautiful, lyrical way of writing. She uses very ornate language to decorate her descriptions of life in the mid-19th century. It is very, very easy to visualize the world she describes, whether she’s talking about the menagerie in the Tower of London or the dim shadows of Clara’s home in New England. It really heightens the aura of mystery and uncertainty that pervades the entire novel.
4 out of 5 stars