Angelica by Arthur Phillips

Angelica

a review by Steve Cameron

In 19th Century London, Joseph Barton, a scientific researcher, declares that his young daughter, Angelica, should no longer sleep in her parents’ room but in her own. His wife, Constance, resists this separation, as well as the impending resumption of intimacies with her alienated husband this move implies. As her daughter sleeps, Constance steadfastly watches over her and becomes aware of both supernatural visitations and physical manifestations in the house. A Spiritualist is then brought on the scene, which only heightens the less than benign intentions the distant Joseph appears to have towards his daughter. Could he be behind the spectral attacks on Angelica?

Told in four parts, and from four different viewpoints (although by a single, un-named narrator), this part-supernatural, part-psychological tale initially appears to be an updated re-working of the classic Victorian ghost story. It does not take long, however, to realise that the scenario is much more complex than this. Although the writing is extremely literate and Phillips is obviously a very talented writer, the experiment seems to have just missed its mark. Phillips has done his best to recreate a Victorian novel, with its thick and dense language and archaic idioms – something I usually enjoy reading – but in this case, coupled with a great deal of character introspection, I found it difficult at times to wade through. And ultimately, I am still unclear as to exactly what had happened. Overall, a book I enjoyed and will probably read again, and recommended for those who enjoy pastiches such as Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black. I look forward to other work from this author.

Previously published in Dark Matter issue 4, July 2011.