From the bestselling author of The Egyptologist and Prague comes an even more accomplished and entirely surprising new novel. Angelica is a spellbinding Victorian ghost story, an intriguing literary and psychological puzzle, and a meditation on marriage, childhood, memory, and fear.
The novel opens in London, in the 1880s, with the Barton household on the brink of collapse. Mother, father, and daughter provoke one another, consciously and unconsciously, and a horrifying crisis is triggered. As the family's tragedy is told several times from different perspectives, events are recast and sympathies shift.
In the dark of night, a chilling sexual spectre is making its way through the house, hovering over the sleeping girl and terrorizing her fragile mother. Are these visions real, or is there something more sinister, and more human, to fear? A spiritualist is summoned to cleanse the place of its terrors, but with her arrival the complexities of motive and desire only multiply. The mother's failing health and the father's many secrets fuel the growing conflicts, while the daughter flirts dangerously with truth and fantasy.
While Angelica is reminiscent of such classic horror tales as The Turn of the Screw and The Haunting of Hill House, it is also a thoroughly modern exploration of identity, reality, and love. Set at the dawn of psychoanalysis and the peak of spiritualism's acceptance, Angelica is also an evocative historical novel that
From the Hardcover edition.
Set in Victorian England, Phillips's impressive third novel uses four linked viewpoints to explore class, gender, family dynamics, sexuality and sciences both real and fraudulent, ancient and newly minted. Joseph Barton, a London biological researcher, orders his four-year-old daughter, Angelica, who's been sleeping in her parents' bedroom, to her own room. Joseph's wife, Constance, resists this separation from her child and the resumption of a marital intimacy that, given her history of miscarriage, may threaten her life. Soon Constance notices foul odors, furniture cracks and a blue specter that appears to attack Angelica while she sleeps. When she reports these supernatural visitations to the unimaginative Joseph, the rift between them widens. Desperate, Constance turns to actress-turned-spiritualist Annie Montague for help. Phillips (Prague) captures period diction and detail brilliantly. At its strongest, the multiple-viewpoint narration yields psychological depth and a number of clever surprises; at its weakest, it can slow the book's momentum to an uncomfortably slow (if authentically Victorian) pace. Author tour. (Apr.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 02, 2007
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Excerpt from Angelica by Arthur Phillips
I suppose my prescribed busywork should begin as a ghost story, since that was surely Constance's experience of these events. I fear, however, that the term arouses unreasonable expectations in you. I scarcely expect to frighten you of all people, even if you should read this by snickering candle and creaking floorboards. Or with me lying at your feet.
So. A ghost story! The scene opens in unthreatening daylight, the morning Joseph cast the child out of their bedroom. The horror tales Constance kept at her bedside always opened peacefully, and so shall hers:
The burst of morning sunlight startled the golden dust off the enfolded crimson drapery and drew fine black veins at the edges of the walnut-brown sill. The casement wants repainting, she thought. The distant irregular trills of Angelica's uncertain fingers stumbling across the piano keys downstairs, the floury aroma of the first loaves rising from the kitchen: from within this thick foliage of domestic safety his coiled rage found her unprepared.
"I have suffered this insult too long," he said. "I cannot countenance a single night more of this--this reversal of nature. You encourage this upending of my authority. You delight in it," he accused. "It ends now. Angelica has a bedroom and shall sleep in it. Am I understood? You have made us ridiculous. Are you blind to this? Answer me. Answer!"
"If she should, my dear, after all, call out for me in the night?"
"Then go to her or not. The question is of no significance to me, and I strongly doubt that it is of any to her." Joseph pointed at the small bed, unobtrusive at the foot of their own, as if noticing it for the first time, as if its very existence justified his cruelty. The sight of it refreshed his anger, and he kicked it, pleased to see his boot spoil the bedding. He had calculated the gesture to affect Constance, and she retreated. "Look at me when I am speaking. Would you have us live as a band of Gypsies?" He was shouting now, though she had not contradicted him, had never once in seven years contemplated such rebellion. "Or are you no longer capable of even a single act of obedience? Is that, then, where we have arrived? Move her before I return. Not a word more."
Constance Barton held her tongue before her husband's hectoring. In his imperial mood, when he imagined himself most English even as he strutted like an Italian bravo, reason could sustain no hope of gaining a foothold. "For how long would you have delayed this, if I did not at last relieve you of the womanly decision?" Against the acquiescence of her silence still he raved, intending to lecture her until she pronounced him wise.
But Constance would have been seeing farther than he was: even if Joseph could deceive himself that he was merely moving a child's bed, she knew better. He was blind (or would feign blindness) to the obvious consequences of his decision, and Constance would pay for his intemperance. If he could only be coaxed into waiting a bit longer, their trouble would pass entirely of its own accord. Time would establish a different, cooler sympathy between them. Such was the fate of all husbands and wives. True, Constance's weakened condition (and Angelica's) had demanded that she and Joseph adapt themselves more hurriedly than most, and she was sorry for him in this. She always intended that Angelica would be exiled downstairs, of course, but later, when she no longer required the child's protective presence. They were not distant from that safer shore.
But Joseph would not defer. "You have allowed far too much to elude you." He buttoned his collar. "The child is spoiling. I have allowed you too much rein."
Only with the front door's guarantee that he had departed for his work did Constance descend to the kitchen and, betraying none of her pain at the instruction, asked Nora to prepare the nursery for Angelica.