The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Laura Purcell Does It Again

ShapeofThe Shape of Darkness is Laura Purcell’s latest novel and is another fine display of her wonderful writing ability.  I started with her Silent Companions novel and was blown away and consequently devour everything she writes.

As the title suggests, this story is dark indeed and is a perfect combination of Victorian superstition and fascination with the macabre.  This is not the Bath of the Regency period with women in empire dresses and bonnets sashaying around the Pump Rooms gossiping about the latest fashions and the militia.  This is a period of industry with the grime, poor sanitary conditions and bleak working conditions associated with the period and Purcell uses this to enhance her story displaying the disparity between the rich and the poor, using the horrors of a period where decent working conditions were non-existent and offsetting this with the change in psyche at a time when invention and change were paramount.

As SoD beings we meet Agnes Darken.  Bath is in the grips of winter and Agnes is struggling in more ways than one.  She isn’t 100% fit having almost died from pneumonia and having suffered family loss is now responsible for the care of her mother and young nephew.  On top of this work is harder to come by.  Times are changing and people want the new and modern.  Photography is the new rage and very few people are interested in having their silhouette taken – which is the profession that Agnes excels at and indeed loves.  Times are tough, the cupboards are bare, the tea caddy empty and the house cold and unwelcoming.  Agnes needs to work but when her customers start dying under strange circumstances her livelihood is really threatened and Agnes finally seeks the help of a spiritualist.

I will confess that when I first started SoD I struggled a little to connect as the beginning is undoubtedly bleak.  But, let me be clear, this uncertainty only lasted a few pages before Purcell had hooked me with the strange coincidences that surrounded each death.

What I really loved about this was the different povs.  We have Agnes, an older woman, unhappy in love, who is struggling to cope.  We then have a young girl called Pearl, only 11 or 12 I think, an albino who apparently is a gifted spiritualist.  Pearl lives with her sister and the two take care of their father who is slowly dying from Phossy Jaw.  Agnes would have been considered a genteel woman, educated and well spoken but fallen upon hard times.  Pearl and her family are working class, also struggling to survive with low wages and harsh conditions and resort to doing whatever it takes to survive.  A strange connection links the two families and slowly but surely they become more involved.

Purcell absolutely excels at the gothic.  She is a word magician when it comes to deliciously dark mysteries and using the Victorian era, which is positively oozing with creepiness.  She manages to conjure a time and a place with perfect ease.  The house, cold and dark, only the ticking of the clock to break the silence.  The time of year, freezing cold, icy fingers, threadbare clothes and sooty fireplaces.  But, more than that it’s the quiet sense of unease that prevails throughout the read.  You’re swept up in the story, so busy putting (or trying to put) together the pieces to make a whole, becoming more excited as you chase the clues, that you don’t realise you’ve missed something until the gloriously twisted end. To be honest, even now I’m in two minds about the ending – and yes, that is a deliberate play on words.

This is an author that continues to impress, she continually comes up with curious phenomenon that leaves me with the desire to learn more once I finish reading and I find myself, again, desperately waiting to see what she comes up with next.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4.5 of 5 stars

25 Responses to “The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell”

  1. Tammy

    Super excited to read this. Plus I actually know what Phossy Jaw is from another book I just read!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I think I’d heard of it but I still went and checked it out – wow, it’s absolutely horrible, of course there were no safety measures or health considerations back then.
      Lynn 😀

  2. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    The setting might be quite bleak, granted, but the mystery you describe is completely fascinating, and it seem as if these two elements combine very successfully.
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      The setting is definitely grim but it works well with the story, plus being set in winter, during the industrial period, with all the smog, the cold and the cloudy days – it just has a very dark ominous tone.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Lexlingua

    This book seems to tackle some very different themes — the birth of photography, Bath in an Industrial Age set-up, spiritualists and the Gothic. Wow. I have fond memories of my trip to Bath many years ago (which I spent sprinkling many, many coins in the wishing well). Might give this one a try just for the Bath re-imagining!

    • @lynnsbooks

      It definitely paints quite a cold and bleak Bath but I thought it was great in terms of this story. I also loved visiting Bath but my interest was more on the Regency aspects at the time. I highly recommend Purcell if you like gothic novels. She is so good. The Silent Companions was an excellent read.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    This sounds so good! I just finished the new CJ Tudor book that started like this too – I had a tough time connecting with the story at the beginning, but gradually it got better. It’s good to be prepared for this when I eventually get to read this!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, it was only a very short lived experience but it surprised me and made me think that this would be the book that broke the spell. But then she wove her magic and pulled me in. I think some of it could be because of the bleakness, Bath itself has a very different feel to it than if you’ve read any regency period novels and it’s really quite grim for both the main female characters – who both really struggled. I think I was expecting a more ‘charming’ version of Bath and so that maybe threw me at first. Like I said, short lived, thankfully.
      Lynn 😀

  5. waytoofantasy

    Oh this sounds great! I really need to read Purcell. I’ll keep this one in mind for when I finish The Silent Companions (which i still have in my TBR)

    • @lynnsbooks

      I’m just loving her books – at the same time I recognise that I’m something of a glutton for certain genres such as gothic – but she’s just so good at it so how can I resist.
      Lynn 😀

      • waytoofantasy

        I love gothic too–I just haven’t read a lot of it for some reason haha.

      • @lynnsbooks

        You’ve probably read more than you think – I usually find that with sci-fi.
        Lynn 😀

      • waytoofantasy

        I may have! I never really think about it. 🙂

      • @lynnsbooks

        Yeah, I tend to think I read no Sci-fi and then I was doing a meme one time looking at sci fi books and I had a lot more than I expected.
        Lynn 😀

  6. Booking Ahead/Weekly Wrap Up | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell […]

  7. sjhigbee

    Fabulous review, Lynn. As you know, I ended up DNFing this one as it wasn’t what I’d been expecting. But I fully acknowledged that it was more about me than the quality of the book and your review absolutely confirms it.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, I love her gothic style but this one was very dark which I totally recognise might not be for everyone.
      Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        In another time, with less going on, I might have enjoyed it, too:)).

      • @lynnsbooks

        Yes, exactly, sometimes mood and other element really do have an impact.
        Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        Oh, it’s massive. Particularly this year…

  8. jessicabookworm

    You had me sold at ‘She is a word magician when it comes to deliciously dark mysteries…’ Great review! 😁

  9. pagesandtea

    Great review, I’m sure it’s no surprise to hear that I’m looking forward to picking this up just a little bit. Okay, maybe a lot. It’s good to hear that Laura Purcell’s delivered another wonderfully gothic novel. I think The Silent Companions remains my favourite so far, I loved it.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I did love the Silent Companions – it probably remains my favourite if I was pushed to choose one, The Corset was also really good. But, regardless I’m loving her gothicy goodness.
      Lynn 😀

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