cover image Selene of the Spirits

Selene of the Spirits

Melissa Pritchard. George Braziller, $22 (230pp) ISBN 978-0-86538-094-3

A Victorian spiritualist and the scientist who is investigating her claims fall for each other in this captivating tale of love, fraud, parapsychology and sibling rivalry. Selene Cook is still a teenager when she and her sister, Octavia, are expelled from school for behavior prompted by the voices that haunt Selene. With the help of professional spiritualists who know how to create ""manifestations,"" whether or not the spirits of the other world cooperate, the girls' ambitious parents soon parlay Selene's spiritualism into a thriving business and social gambit. Not to be outdone by her younger sister, Octavia does some parlaying of her own. Octavia's machinations and Selene's affair with Sir William Herapath, who conducts Holmesian experiments on her powers, end in Selene's exile to the Welsh countryside, where she rediscovers her spiritual side. Meticulous research, elegant style and genial acceptance of human nature make Flannery O'Connor Award winner Pritchard (Phoenix) a compelling narrator. Without rancor or pretentiousness, she probes the choices Victorian England offered young women craving independence and examines both the comedy and poignancy of the search for proof of an afterlife. Vivid minor characters (Selene's overreaching parents, Herapath's wronged taxidermist wife, the sisters' wealthy benefactor and his troubled daughter) enrich this brief novel with compassion and make it as haunting as its subject. (Nov.)