British author Thomas (The Illusionists, 2014, etc.) brings back the Wix family, entertainers who own London’s Palmyra theater, and focuses on the daughter’s story in this historical romance set in the early 20th century and beyond.
My reading experience:
Devil and Eliza Wix are boarding a Steamer with their 3 children. It is 1910. Devil is somewhat removed from his little family although he crafts an air of paternalism through a game of catch that draws all children to him and in some ways this is an analogy for how he performs parenting.
Nancy their 13 year old daughter has discovered she has a connection to the supernatural world, what she calls the Uncanny. And when the Steamer is sunk and this little family survives, a gentleman called Mr Lawrence Feather tells Nancy that he recognises her as a seer. Life will never be the same.
“Black petals further unfurled in her chest …”
I recognised the ethereal qualities of Eliza and the magic of Devil immediately and it is their relationship that is the foundation of this book which I believe is a sequel to The Illusionists. The children are fairly typical except as they grow up, they endure The Great War which changes Cornelius irrevocably. Arthur once saved by his sister is determined to be a hero and becomes the man (at a tender age) that he has strived to be that perhaps his family didn’t think he was capable of being. However it is Nancy that this story focuses on and her endeavours to stay removed from Lawrence Feather and live a “normal” life.
There is an underlying current of the Suffragist movement, of sexuality, PTSD, of drug mis-use, of the ‘Roaring twenties’ and Spiritualism.
“There were infinite shades beyond the solid hues of normality, so diaphanous that she could not define them even for her father.”
When Miss Zenobia Wix or Nancy as everyone calls her fulfills her destiny and becomes an Medium or Spiritualist, the Uncanny weighs heavy on her often leaving her exhausted and listless. Then she has her second chance meeting with Gil Maitland and ultimately her life changes forever.
The writing is elegant, often the phrasing is pure sparkle and speaks to the reader’s soul. I liked the way the book is sectioned into parts – the corners of Nancy’s life; the sinking of the Steamer The Queen Mab and the war years, the post-war era and the women’s movement, the ‘Roaring twenties and the bohemian modernism, and the pre-war era of the early thirties. Each part has the Palmyra theatre woven through it as it stands as the very crux of her fathers world.
This tale is of the supernatural, the theatre and its melodrama and a spellbinding web of woven magic.
Themes: war, supernatural, sexuality, betrayal, spirituality, adultery, marriage, sex, PTSD
Read for @ReadingBtwWInes #bookclub