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

Can’t Wait Wednesday : The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell – because LAURA PURCELL!!!!!!  That is all.

ShapeofAs the age of the photograph dawns in Victorian Bath, silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another… Why is the killer seemingly targeting her business?

Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them.

But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something that they can never put back…

Expected publication : January 2021

Bone China by Laura Purcell

Posted On 28 October 2019

Filed under Book Reviews
Tags: ,

Comments Dropped 17 responses

BoneChinaBone China is the third book I’ve read by Laura Purcell and firmly cements her in my mind as an amazing storyteller.  I might not have quite loved the story here as much as the previous two books but the writing is amazing and Purcell’s ability to conjure a novel full of gothic atmosphere is second to none.  I just love her writing.  Definitely an auto buy author for me and I look forward to seeing what she does next.

Bone China brings to us a story of two women.  Told in alternating timelines we first make the introduction of Hester Why as she makes her way by carriage to Moroven House.   Hester has taken a new position and travels by coachlight during a bout of particularly fierce weather.  We discover immediately that Hester is hiding something and in fact has taken on a different identity hoping to start afresh.  All will be eventually revealed as to why exactly Hester has felt the need to runaway from her past.

The second timeline takes us back to the past when Dr Pinecroft and his daughter Louisa take up residence at Moroven House.  The rest of their family have died, taken by consumption, and Dr Pinecroft is determined to find a cure for this deadly disease that steals so many lives.  He’s using the beach at Moroven as an experiment and has moved a number of prisoners, all at different stages of the disease, to a cave there, where he believes the sea air will help to revive them.

Both stories have an edge to them that involves myth and folklore.  There is talk of the fae and changelings and both tales have a creepy ominous feel that deepens as each story progresses.  I also really liked that some of the characters play a role in both stories although I won’t discuss that particular element further.

What I think works really well here is the atmosphere that Purcell creates.  A sense of dark foreboding where you almost want the main protagonist to simply get the hell out of there – I know that’s what I’d want to do anyway.    Deliciously dark.

In terms of the characters I think this might be the only element that kept me from being totally bowled over.  Hester is an unreliable narrator which is actually something I usually enjoy very much and up to a point it works really well here.  I think my main issue is that I couldn’t really find it in myself to like Hester.  Her earlier actions with her former employer were very dubious to say the least – I won’t say that she was fully to blame for the chain of events that occurred but her actions, prompted by jealousy, were bad, very very bad, and so even though some of her later actions helped to redeem her a little I think her earlier character decisions were difficult to shake off.  In fairness, at the same time that this gave me pause I also have to applaud it because it’s so suitable for this style of book.  Hester isn’t perfect.  She’s made mistakes and has run away to escape the consequences but her new position feels akin to out of the frying pan into the fire and it has this feel of retribution, like there simply is no way of running away from your own actions.

I enjoyed the earlier timeline with a young Louisa Pinecroft desperately trying to help her father and stop him floundering with despair and guilt.  This is a story that also begins to spiral out of control with the doctor himself becoming consumed with a kind of hysterical madness.  I felt for Louisa and again I think that the fact that she was so trapped in the craziness that began to unfold left me feeling a little dissatisfied although i can’t entirely pin down why, I guess I wanted things to work out better for her but then again – the nature of this type of story.

This is definitely a book that has had me turning around in circles.  There are so many things that I loved about it.  The writing – which is beautiful and evocative.  The setting, with the Cornish coast really playing into the story and in fact becoming almost like a character itself.  The spooky house, the superstitions.  The sense of impending doom.  In fact, the more I think about it this book really has managed to grab my attention and keep it for considerably longer than I would normally expect.

I did enjoy this and the more I think about it the more elements of the story, when played over in my mind, on reflection were just really damned good.  I think the only thing that keeps me from being blown away is a combination of two factors, the first the authors phenomenal success with both The Silent Companions and the Corset – oh my, did I love those two books and even though I don’t want to compare it’s kind of difficult, not to mention inevitable really, that those comparisons will take place – would I have loved this more if I hadn’t read the first two – very likely, but I’ll never really know.  The second is just an overall feeling that I wanted maybe a happier ending somehow – although, that being said this is gothic and happy bunnies and rainbows are not often part of the general landscape.

On a totally fickle note I simply have to mention the cover – it really ties into the book so very well and gives me a serious case of the heebie jeebies.

I would rate this 4 out of 5 stars

And, I cannot wait to see what Laura Purcell comes up with next.

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

 

 

The Corset by Laura Purcell

Posted On 4 July 2019

Filed under Book Reviews
Tags: ,

Comments Dropped 17 responses

The Corset is also known as The Poison Thread and it has two completely different covers.  I’ve posted both because I don’t know which one you’ll all be more familiar with.

This is a book that I absolutely loved.  In fact I cannot give this book enough love and it’s highly unlikely that I’ll be able to do it justice with this review because even now, a few days after putting the book down, my mind is awhirl with thoughts.  To be honest when I picked this up I expected it to be good, I’d read The Silent Companions already which was so deliciously creepy and gothic that I was hungry for more – so, no pressure there then.  But, what I didn’t expect was this to exceed my expectations and that’s what makes this such a pleasant surprise.  Of course, when you read a really good book, written by a new to you author, you want to rush out and buy everything that the author produces – of course you do, why wouldn’t you after all.  Finding a good book is such a wonderful feeling and one that you want to experience over and over again – it’s an addiction that pushes readers like me to devour books in search of the next ‘best’ read.  But, let’s be honest, there’s a little annoying mind worm that also makes you want to hold back, that fear that this next book might not live up to its predecessor.  You might be disappointed and your golden glow will dissolve.  Well, fear not – as Buzz Lightyear once said ‘Not today’.  This isn’t the book to kill that glow, in fact, it’s the book that adds rainbows and unicorns to your already sparkly glowing sheen.  Have I intrigued you?  I hope so.  I want everyone to read Laura Purcell.  She’s definitely a keeper.  Okay, to the review then.

Beautifully written and positively oozing with atmosphere this is a story that brings with it two stunning and absolutely wonderful to read characters.  Dorothea Truelove is a wealthy young woman, maybe a little bit pretentious, perhaps a little naive in some ways and possibly a little pleased with herself in others.  As I started the story I expected her voice to be my least favourite and even to be the weaker of the two – the POV that I resented just a little bit every time I had to swap, but the one I put up with in order to get to the next chapters.  How very wrong I was.  Dorothea’s story is positively fascinating to read – of course you expect the other storyline to be more gripping and it certainly does pull you in a heck of a lot faster – but be patient with Dorothea, she has her own story that just needs teasing out and it’s one that becomes positively compelling.

Ruth Butterham is convicted of murder, in prison awaiting her execution.  She is visited in prison by Dorothea who has taken up visiting prisoners at Oakgate Prison as part of her charitable endeavours.  Dorothea has a keen interest in phrenology, the study of skulls, and is positively bristling with the thoughts of being able to study Ruth and test out her theories.  Ruth has led a very different life to Dorothea.  Her’s is a story beset with unhappy events starting as early as her unhappy school days where she was bullied quite mercilessly.  But for the grace of God, not to mention a rather rash choice of husband on the part of her mother, Ruth could have shared a similar lifestyle to Dorothea but unfortunately that wasn’t to be the case.  Her mother was disinherited, her husband quickly became more enamoured by the bottle than by his wife and daughter and their lives lurched from poor decision to bad luck to unhappy disaster until their family life was ruined.

The absolutely wonderful thing about these two characters is the parallels that they share – so many in fact that I’m even now being surprised at the author’s ingenuity.  I don’t want to spoil anything though so I’m going to leave that thought there for you to ponder on.  And, in fact, that’s the real issue I have in writing this review.  I desperately want to tell you everything but at the same time there’s a very real possibility of giving too much away.  So, I’m going to have to go for a review that will be much more of a teaser.

Basically, this is a gothic style novel, the writing is captivating and the setting is expertly rendered.  Purcell manages to recreate the Victorian period with an almost casual ease that requires very little effort on the part of the reader in order to become totally immersed.  As the book sets out we meet Dorothea and, as mentioned, it feels like her story is going to be slow (although that impression is soon blown out of the water).  Ruth then starts to tell her story – the story of a young woman that is very difficult to read.  She has experienced such sorrows and hardships that you can’t help feeling for her.  Ruth has a fantastic narrative voice that pulled me into her tale immediately.  She believes so passionately in her story that it’s difficult not to fall under her spell.  Is she a murderer or is she unwittingly causing bad things to happen by the power of her own stitching.  Are her thoughts being entwined in the threads and materials as she sews?  Or is she delusional?

I don’t think I can say more without giving too much away and spoiling the read.  Ruth’s unhappy story is gripping to read and like Dorothea I became totally obsessed with reading it and discovering just how very gullible she really was.  Likewise, Dorothea’s story becomes utterly compelling and twists into something that I simply didn’t envision.

This is a great read and one that I have no hesitation in recommending.  I would give this a very strong 5 out of 5 and I would actually rate it even higher if that was possible.

Great writing, characters that will grip you and a very clever plot that keeps the pages turning fast.  An absolute stunner with a brilliant ending.

Where I received a copy: bought.  Opinions are my own.

Rating 5 of 5 wonderful stars

 

Weekly Wrap Up : 16th June 2019

Hello again everyone.  Hope you’ve had a good week.  The weather has been absolutely horrible but the silver lining of bad weather is more reading.  I’ve read three books this week and I have to confess I’m on a role – three really great reads.  Limited Wish – the second instalment of Mark Lawrence’s time travelling sci fi which is a lot of fun and totally mind bending in a great way (how is that not a contradiction?).  The 10th instalment of the Mercy Thompson series which I really enjoyed and really shook things up and finally The Corset by Laura Purcell – which absolutely blew me away – I loved it.  In other news SPFBO5 is now live – and has already received over 250 entrants – in fact the tally as this post goes live is 264.  Looks like there’s some strong competition and I’m looking forward to seeing which books and authors are in my group.  So, here’s what I’ve been reading:

My books:

  1. Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence – 4.5 stars
  2. Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs – 4 stars
  3. The Corset by Laura Purcell – 5 stars

Next scheduled reads:

  1. The Whisper Man by Alex North
  2. Nocturna by Maya Motayne
  3. Across the Void by SK Vaughn

Upcoming reviews

  1. King of the Road by RS Belcher
  2. Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs
  3. The Fall by Tracy Townsend
  4. Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs
  5. The Corset by Laura Purcell

I’d love to know what you’re reading this week.

Next Page »