One came true… (page 350)
Gerard Freeman grew up in Australia, but his heart was always in Staplefield, England, the childhood home of his mother. She tells and retells the story of her childhood, until one fateful afternoon she suddenly stops after she catches Gerard snooping in her room. There he had found a manuscript entitled The Seraphina. He’s sure it is written by his great aunt, but his mother won’t speak of it. Around this time, a letter arrives from Alice, a girl in England, through a company called Penfriends International. They continue their correspondence through adulthood and into his continued search for the truth about Staplefield and his mother’s past.
I wanted to like this book so much. The concept is fascinating – a woman writes a ghost story and it comes true. Only we don’t know who the writer is and which story came true. There’s history and present day and mysterious women! It should be a recipe for success, but something about this novel fell short. First, I found the sections of the gothic novels written by Viola to be too long and not very interesting. I was much more interested in Gerard’s story. I know that the ghost stories were integral to the plot, and I could certainly appreciate them by the end, but slugging through them didn’t do anything for the story. The first quarter of the book was fascinating and intriguing. The middle section of the book was, for me, very boring. It picked up toward the end, but not enough to be redeeming.
I thought the focus and structure for the story that Harwood was telling was all wrong. I would have much rather been in the present with Anne and Phyllis, than reliving everything through flashbacks and what Gerard finds out. In this sort of flashback method, the characters are horribly flat. We never get to fully know Gerard because he’s too involved in the past. We never really get to know Anne and Phyllis’s motivations because Gerard is telling their story through what he has pieced together.
I think another problem I had with this novel was that on some level, I guessed what was going to happen. There were some sections that remained a surprise, but the big shocker at the end was really obvious to me. Did anyone else feel this way? Then there was the feeling at the end that everything just ended. No resolution. The psychological damage done to Gerard by the end of the novel is something that could have turned this novel around. What does he do with his new found knowledge? Does he go mad? Does he follow in his family’s footsteps?
I was disappointed with this novel. I don’t think I can recommend it. It wasn’t awful, but it just wasn’t enjoyable for me. I finished it, which is something, and I don’t necessarily regret reading it.
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