Τhe Shape of Darkness

Title:The Shape of Darkness

Writer: Laura Purcell

Publishing House: Raven Books

Date of Publication: January 21st 2021

Rate: 5 stars

‘’Shadows flee across the cobbles and climb up walls. Agnes has spent her life studying them, but she has not appreciated their sheer number until tonight. She sees shadows thrown by a dancing flame, the shadow of a tree branch, of an alley cat, shadows from nothing at all.’’

Agnes works wonders with her skilful hands. A silhouette artist in an era when the photograph is about to become THE fashion, she has to keep her business alive and provide for her mother and her nephew. But this is not the hardest part of her daily life. Still recovering from a severe illness, the shadows of the past are playing hide-and-seek. And then, clients of hers are murdered. One after another. A child with otherworldly powers seems to provide the only solution. A game of shadows begins…

Yes, one more masterpiece by the inimitable Laura Purcell.

‘’The gas lamps are up. Not high, but enough to taunt her. By their light, the parlour looks shabbier: the wallpaper a weak and faded lilac chintz that depresses the spirits. Pearl’s spirits, that is. She doesn’t know about the ghosts. They haven’t complained about the decoration as yet.’’

I don’t think that Laura Purcell’s work needs an introduction. In her fourth novel/masterpiece, we meet Agnes and Pearl. Taking place in Bath during the 1850s, this is the story of a woman and a child, two souls that have been plagued by the spirits of the past for so long…Grief and Death are their companions, and the narrative becomes haunting and mesmerizing in an almost twisted way as we witness the toil that burdens Agnes and Pearl’s shoulders.

To what extent should you sacrifice yourself, your dignity, your happiness, your sanity for the sake of your family? Why is it that the innocents are left to atone in blood and tears for the mistakes of others? Laura Purcell creates a marriage between the themes of shadows – literal and metaphorical- and silhouettes and the daily responsibilities and hardship women have had to face to keep their families safe. The beautiful characters of Agnes and Pearl, their faith, determination and bravery are a wonder to behold within the pages of this beautiful book.

To say that the novel is rich in this distinctive, superb Gothic atmosphere we have come to associate with Purcell’s works is an understatement. The conviction that the soul would be captured within a portrait or a photograph. The Victorian obsession with Spiritualism, mesmerism, the unethical madness of body-snatching, the popularity of the Penny Dreadfuls. What more could we possibly want as readers? 

Every Victorian Gothic element is here, in this novel, in all its eerie glory. Perfection after perfection, Laura Purcell never seizes to generously lure us into a mesmerizing net of pure literary delight.

‘’When the hours of day are numbered,

And the voices of the night

Wake the better soul, that slumbered, 

To a holy, calm delight. 

Ere the evening lamps are lighted,

And, like phantoms grim and tall,

Shadows from the fitful fire-light

Dance upon the parlour wall;’’

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