I liked Harwood’s previous novel The Ghost Writer very much. The Séance shares several of The Ghost Writer‘s hallmarks: reserved, chilly, almost 19th-century flavored prose*; dark, complex and secret-spiked family histories; an elaborate, almost meta-textual, structure with multiple layers of nested stories; a brooding, slow-growing aura of menace; and lingering questions about which — if any — of the recounted events are supernatural.
Initially I found The Séance a bit too similar to its predecessor, but it eventually reveals itself to be significantly different. Without wanting to spoil it too much, it pays homage to a different set of earlier works than The Ghost Writer, and it introduces a handful of genuinely surprising notions into the maybe-ghost trope. One particular device seems so appropriate — and so creepy — I can’t believe dozens of other writers haven’t exploited it. Maybe they have, but I’ve never read a work using quite the same trick.
Unfortunately, although the climax proper is appropriately hair-raising, the novel finishes rather weakly, with a hard-to-digest expository lump.
Despite my reservations, I recommend the book unhesitatingly to fans of a good old-fashioned spook show.
* Séance is actually set in the latter part of the Victorian era, and Harwood evokes the milieu far more successfully and convincingly than a great many writers who set fiction in the time period.
needs more demons? no.