From the author of The Book of Lost Fragrances comes a haunting novel about a grieving woman who discovers the lost letters of novelist Victor Hugo, awakening a mystery that spans centuries.
In 1843, novelist Victor Hugo’s beloved nineteen-year-old daughter drowned. Ten years later, Hugo began participating in hundreds of séances to reestablish contact with her. In the process, he claimed to have communed with the likes of Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus—and even the Devil himself. Hugo’s transcriptions of these conversations have all been published. Or so it was believed.
Recovering from her own losses, mythologist Jac L’Etoile arrives on the Isle of Jersey—where Hugo conducted the séances—hoping to uncover a secret about the island’s Celtic roots. But the man who’s invited her there, a troubled soul named Theo Gaspard, has hopes she’ll help him discover something quite different—Hugo’s lost conversations with someone called the Shadow of the Sepulcher.
What follows is an intricately plotted and atmospheric tale of suspense with a spellbinding ghost story at its heart, by one of America’s most gifted and imaginative novelists.
Fictional books about reincarnation are difficult to pull off. It’s hard to make them feel anything but corny when it comes to the characters’ reliving past lives. Unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed the first half of this novel, it has these same faults.
The whole novel’s setup is done nicely. It’s very atmospheric, making the reader feel quite cozy despite the mysterious circumstances Jac is living through. The British setting is perfect, with the ocean providing an almost sinister backdrop.
Jac herself is interesting, though not as complex as I would have liked. We don’t get too much about her personality, getting more flashbacks of past lives than anything else. We also get to meet a fictional Victor Hugo through his journals, which provides a nice contrast to Jac’s story. I wish I could say that the Owain and Gwenore plot was as interestingly composed as the rest, but it feels overdone and not nearly original enough to warrant an entire novel devoted to it. We don’t see much of it, even though it is truly crucial plot line, so it feels extraneous, when it really shouldn’t.
Apart from that, the supposedly climactic scene was a disappointment. Considering all the pages devoted to descriptions, as lovely as they were, I expected a bit more of the big “fight” scene at the end.
All in all, not one of my favorites, although I did enjoy the first half quite a lot. You can find better novels of this genre out there.