Review of ‘Spirited’ by Julie Cohen

A complex, emotionally tense novel. I found it quite absorbing although it was a slow burn. The narrative examines the relationships between three main characters: Viola, her husband Jonah and housemaid turned spirit medium Henriette. I was disappointed that the supernatural element was not very strong and that some of the language and attitudes were distinctly modern. As historical fiction it didn’t feel very convincing somehow. It was like one of those historical dramas on TV where you get distracted from the story because the actors have unrealistically nice teeth and great hair. As a study of grief, female agency and romantic discovery, however, this book fares better. The narrative is occasionally broken up by pieces of evidence, some real, some fictional, which attempt to shed some light on the story. I felt that these were unnecessary. For example, it was jarring to read a Wikipedia article about the character of Viola. Do we really want to be reminded of the internet when we’re trying to escape into a novel set in the 1850s?

Spirited by Julie Cohen

Spirited is definitely worth a read, despite some issues which kept me from enjoying it fully.

First published in 2020 by Orion.

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