As someone who is a real fan of books set in the Victorian period and all things slightly supernatural, you can see why I would be so excited to get the opportunity to review Julie Cohen’s latest book – Spirited – as part of the blog tour. Spirited is one of the Lockdown reads that I’ve most enjoyed and it’s set me off down a rabbit hole of re-reading Sarah Waters’ Affinity and looking up some stories about real life Victorian mediums as I got so caught up in this beautifully rendered slice of Victoriana.
Viola Worth, our main character, has been brought up as a respectable and diligent young Victorian gentlewoman alongside her religious father’s ward, Jonah. Jonah and Viola are inseparable as children and so we are unsurprised to discover that they decide to marry once they are grown up. Their happiness over their engagement is blighted by the loss of Viola’s father who had been a hugely positive influence on her life. Unlike many Victorian fathers he encouraged her to develop her skills as a photographer and was delighted to witness her emerging talents in this field.
The fact that Viola and Jonah have spent some time apart, with Jonah going off to India like so many young men of his situation and era has subtly altered their relationship. They have not so much grown apart as people, it’s more like their different experiences have started to affect the way they see the world through their altering perspectives and they fee very much alone in their differing experiences of grief.
Their newly married life carries expectations that they both conform to, with varying senses of happiness and fulfilment. Viola certainly seems to find her bereavement and the feeling of being somewhat limited and trapped through circumstances very challenging . It is at this point that our medium enters the story and starts to change the dynamics in ways that neither of them could have anticipated and this is when I really got totally drawn into this beautifully written and captivating period piece.
Henriette is a fascinating character and very much plays the part of a catalyst in this story – adding to the lives of the other characters in this story and allowing us to see them afresh and uncover aspects of their personalities and former experiences that were previously hidden from us. Although I started this story feeling more sympathy towards Viola, as the novel unfurled and we started to get more insight into Jonah’s heroism during his time in India, including his heroism at the Siege of Delhi, I started to feel much more respect for him and see his buttoned-up ness in a new light. The way that we get insights into elements of the past through snippets of news reports and archive materials really added to the feeling of this being a ‘real’ story and brought these characters to life through its pages.
Spirited is a beautiful story with characters that sing and stay vividly with you even when you aren’t reading it. I absolutely love Sarah Waters and normally find that all other writers pale into comparison alongside er, but Spirited definitely gives her writing a very real run for its money. It is both a wonderfully rendered story that draws you in as well as asking the reader ti think about important issues like female agency, love and grief from some very interesting and original perspectives.
Henriette cast as much of a spell on me as she managed to within the story and I would absolutely love to see this novel brought to life on the screen as I think it would translate absolutely beautifully. There is so much more to say about this book, but I’m truly loath to spoil any of its beauty and subtle power by telling too much; this is a novel that unfolds in such a wonderfully understated way that I really want you to experience it wholly for yourself and feel its power in the same way that I was able to.
Thank you so much to Anne Cater & Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part on the Spirited blogtour and I definitely recommend that you buy your own copy and experience the haunting beauty of Spirited for yourself.
‘Brilliant . . . I enjoyed it hugely’ Marian Keyes
‘Hugely original and heartbreakingly real’ Rosie Walsh
‘Not often does a story remind us of what beautifully complex creatures we are. Julie Cohen has given us that rare gift’ Christina Dalcher
‘Elegant, thoughtful and powerful’ Daisy Buchanan
‘So cleverly done and authentic’ A J Pearce
‘Beautifully written and thought-provoking’ Kate Eberlen
‘A timely read that will stay with you long after you put it down’ Libby Page
‘A cobweb of a book: beautifully intricate and delicate’ Veronica Henry
‘Engaging, moving, arresting’ Sunday Times
‘A powerful and memorable story’ Sunday Express
‘A modern tale told with heart’ Grazia
Writer On The Shelf
Julie Cohen grew up in the western mountains of Maine. Her house was just up the hill from the library and she spent many hours walking back and forth, her nose in a book. She studied English Literature at Brown University and Cambridge University and is a popular speaker and teacher of creative writing, including classes for the Guardian and Literature Wales.
Her books have been translated into fifteen languages and have sold over a million copies; DEAR THING and TOGETHER were Richard and Judy Book Club picks. Her most recent novel is the critically acclaimed LOUIS & LOUISE. Julie lives in Berkshire with her husband, son and a terrier of dubious origin.
You can find out more about Julie on her website: http://www.julie-cohen.com and definitely follow her on Twitter @julie_cohen