cover image AFTERIMAGE


Helen Humphreys, AFTERIMAGEHelen Humphreys

Inspired by the Victorian photography of Julia Margaret Cameron, Canadian author Humphreys creatively invents the world behind the images of a costumed house maid. Acknowledging a debt to Jane Eyre, Humphreys sets her beguiling tale in the mid-19th-century English countryside, where doe-eyed Annie Phelan comes to work at Middle Road Farm. What she encounters there is alien to her strict, religious upbringing as a servant after her family died in the Irish famine. Her new mistress, Isabelle, is the unconventional daughter of local gentry and a passionate artist attempting to prove her skill in the new medium of photography. Isabelle uses her house staff as models in elaborately concocted photo shoots and discovers the obedient Annie to be an expressive and intriguing portrait subject. Viewing Annie dressed up as Ophelia, Sappho or the Madonna, 30ish Isabelle begins to feel an attraction to the younger woman—the kind of attraction she no longer feels for her husband, Eldon. He is a mapmaker with ambitions to be a world explorer, and he also admires Annie, whom he calls "Phelan" when she becomes a participant in his imaginary expedition to the Arctic. He also helps her to satisfy her own obsession, which is reading, by allowing her to borrow books from his library. The atmosphere that encloses this evolving love triangle is sometimes erotic, sometimes poignant and always complicated by Victorian class issues. A fiery denouement causes Annie to question her past and reconsider her future with Isabelle. Humphreys, author of four books of poetry and the acclaimed novel Leaving Earth, has an impeccable command of imagery, and her prose finds strengths in its subtlety. A hauntingly beautiful reproduction of a Cameron photo on the jacket should pull readers to this finely wrought novel. (Apr.)