Completed 3/13/2017 Reviewed 3/14/2017
This was a peculiar book. I found it relatively boring and uninspired through most of it. The story is about a Victorian lady who visits a women’s prison on a regular basis. She eventually forms a bond with a spiritualist who is imprisoned for fraud and assault. Then in the last 50 pages or so, it starts to get interesting, ending with a great twist. But is it enough to make the book a worthwhile read? Well, not really.
The book is not badly written. The prose is decent. I simply found the basic story very boring. Miss Prior, the Victorian lady, is a spinster who has been suffering from depression. I never found it clear why she decided to become a Lady Visitor at the women’s prison. Was it supposed to lift her from her depression? Going to a prison, even as a charitable deed does not seem like the sort of thing that one would do to feel better. Miss Prior goes to the prison, but because of her growing relationship with the spiritualist, becomes more morose and rebellious at home. Of course, rebellious for a Victorian lady is relatively mild by today’s standards. But it causes conflict with Prior’s mother. It should be noted too that Prior is basically already a spinster at age 29. Her brother is married, and her younger sister is getting married.
The book is written as two diaries, told through alternating chapters. One diary being Miss Prior’s, the other being Dawes, the spiritualist. I think the diary form is part of why it’s boring. Prior is not a great story teller. Dawes entries are short and informational. We don’t really get much character development out of them. We get all the character development from Prior’s entries, and it’s just, well, I’d say “Nice”.
Eventually, we are told that Prior was in love with her sister-in-law before she married Prior’s brother. This adds a little spice to the story, but not too much. Later, it becomes clear that she also falls in love with Dawes, who seems to truly have the gift to contact the dead. Through this relationship, Dawes schemes to escape and run away with Prior. It’s here that the story starts to finally pick up. But it is so close to the end, you wonder what the purpose of the previous three hundred pages were. Maybe I missed some unspoken sexual tension, but the relationship building went at a snail’s pace.
All I could think through most of this book was, what’s the point. The prose is nice, but I felt like nothing happened for about 300 pages. The book is 351 pages. All the intrigue happens at the end, and it was way too long to wait for me. However, I’ll give this book the benefit of the doubt with a three star rating out of five, because of the prose and the end. If you read this book, I think it will help you that you know that you’ll be coasting for a long time. So try to enjoy the prose, and if you get bored, rest in the knowledge that the payoff at the end is pretty good.