18 January 2012

Review: THE ANATOMY OF GHOSTS, Andrew Taylor


  • published by Penguin 2010
  • 469 pages
  • ISBN 978-0-718-15659-6
  • source: local library
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

1786, Jerusalem College Cambridge. The ghost of Sylvia Whichcote is rumoured to be haunting Jerusalem since disturbed fellow-commoner, Frank Oldershaw, claims to have seen the dead woman prowling the grounds. Desperate to salvage her son's reputation, Lady Anne Oldershaw employs John Holdsworth to investigate.

Subtitled: An Inquiry into the distressing circumstances surrounding an alleged apparition lately recorded in Cambridge. Set Down for the Curious in the Form of a Novel.

My take:

The novel is set against background of a fictional college, the Jerusalem College, in Cambridge. In an author's note Andrew Taylor admits "remarkable similarities [that extend only to its layout and aspects of its early history] between the fictional Jerusalem College and the entirely real Emmanuel College".

The novel opens with a meeting of the Holy Ghost Club in Jerusalem College. The club is part of the social fabric of the college, designed to introduce a group of select members to the rather more dissolute habits. The club is a focal point in John Holdsworth's investigation into the derangement of College fellow Frank Oldershaw.

The original The Anatomy of Ghosts is a pamphlet that Holdsworth wrote to help him come to terms with the deaths of his son and then his wife by drowning and his feeling that they are haunting him. While she was still alive his wife had been preyed upon by some unscrupulous people. Holdsworth was keen to show that they had been instrumental in bringing about the suicide of his wife who had been convinced she was being visited by their son's ghost. His book brings him to the notice of Lady Anne Oldershaw who commissions him to investigate the madness of her son which has apparently been caused by the appearance of a ghost.

Jerusalem College is a close knit and closed community with the usual power rivalries at the top and distinct social strata. Lady Anne Oldershaw is a patron of the college and so Holdsworth will be staying in the Master's house under the pretext of organising the college library. He is also charged with trying to bring Frank Oldershaw back to health.

At the same time as being a detective story that follows a trail of clues to a final denouement THE ANATOMY OF GHOSTS provides an interesting insight into academic and social life in a Cambridge university college in the late eighteenth century. The novel won't be everybody's cup of tea, but it has the feeling of a scholarly work, with attention to authentic historical detail.

My rating: 4.2

Other reviews to check:
Other reviews of Andrew Taylor titles on MiP:
THE BARRED WINDOW
4.5, THE FOUR LAST THINGS
4.4, THE JUDGEMENT OF STRANGERS

1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - It may not be everyone's cuppa but it looks interesting to me. This is one of Taylor's that I haven't read. Time to change that.

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