Saturday, January 2, 2010

*Afterimage, by Helen Humphreys

my edition of this book

Afterimage starts off the New Year for me in one of my favorite settings both fictional and nonfictional -- Victorian England.  The book is loosely based on the work of Julia Margaret Cameron, a Victorian-period photographer, who often used her maids and household staff as subjects for her photographs.

It's also is a wonderful book and easily readable in one sitting; so well written that you won't want to put it down.

Afterimage examines a year in the life of a household living near Tunbridge Wells in Kent. The main characters are Isabelle Dashell, daughter of a local lord, and Eldon Dashell, her husband, who live without really living. Isabelle tries -- her photography is her passion, using the housemaids and the gardener for models; Eldon, who wanted to join the search for the missing Franklin Arctic expedition, works on atlases for a single publishing company and lives life vicariously through the narratives of famous explorers. Eldon is perpetually depressed, and both he and Isabelle are incredibly lonely, unable to connect with each other on a personal level. Enter the new maid, Annie Phelan, a woman who can read (her favorite book is Jane Eyre) and who has a great deal of intelligence, who brings something new into the Dashell's home for both Isabelle and Eldon, but whose entrance also sparks a horrible tragedy.

Afterimage captures a small slice of the Victorian era, complete with its status, gender and class divisions. The writing is excellent, the characters are well drawn. I noticed that some reviewers at other sites criticize the book for not having a plot, per se, but I think those readers missed the point. My only criticism is that the end is a bit overwrought and maybe a bit melodramatic, but otherwise, it is a novel I can most heartily recommend.

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