This masterful historical novel is two stories:
The first centers upon the strange, true tale of The Fox Sisters, the family of enigmatic young women who, in upstate New York in 1848, proclaimed that they could converse with the dead. The second story is of the bright promise the Fox Sisters offer up to the skeptical Clara Gill, a reclusive woman of a certain age who long ago isolated herself with her wildlife paintings, following the scandalous loss of her beautiful young lover in London.
Captivity is a tale about physical desire and the hope that even the thinnest faith can offer up to a darkening heart.
This lush and lyrical historical novel is based on the real story of Maggie Fox, of the infamous Fox sisters who claimed they could communicate with the dead and made a fortune conducting seances in mid-nineteenth-century New York. Intertwined with the sisters' story is the story of Clara Gill, a recluse haunted by a past that she fights to suppress every bit as hard as she fights to cling to it. Hers is a tragic story that slowly unravels as she is drawn into an unlikely friendship with Maggie, a woman who could end up being either her salvation or her undoing.
Part of the beauty of this book is the constant element of the unknown. Is Maggie faking or can she really communicate with the dead? If she is a faker, is it really so bad to give grieving people closure and peace? What happened all those years ago to Clara? Is she really mad? Is her version of past events reliable? Is she really a skeptic or is she secretly yearning for her own closure? It's remarkable to me that the author is able to create such realistic, compelling, and empathetic characters without ever really revealing the fundamental truths about them.
As I was reading this book I marked dozens of beautifully written passages and realized I could easily end up quoting the whole book in this review. So I forced myself to choose one to share as an example of the quality and resonance of the prose in this book, and this is it:
Real death is not a parlor game but a flat heaviness that weights the limbs, that makes every step a struggle, every breath reproach and violation. It is mold on the morning firewood and a chill that won't go even when the hearth is banked to roaring, even when the familiar quilt is wound full round weighted legs and feet on a stool like a winding sheet. It is the bitterness of herbs in an undertaker's parlor and damp shoes by a hole in the ground and the absence of sunlight and emptiness beyond reckoning.
There's not a word out of place in this gripping, touching and deeply satisfying novel. One of my favorite books of the year.
"Understand that thou thyself art another world in little, and hast with thee the sun and the moon, and also the stars. Thou seest that thou hast all those things which the world hath."
All this, captive in me.
My Rating: 5 Stars out of 5
*Though I received this book from the publisher, these are my honest and unbiased thoughts, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.
This review was posted on Radiant Reviews over at Chrissie's Corner. Check out this awesome meme of 5-star book reviews!