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Angelica: A Novelby Arthur Phillips
Synopses & Reviews
From the bestselling author of The Egyptologist and Prague comes an even more accomplished and entirely surprising new novel. Angelica is a spellbinding Victorian ghost story, an intriguing literary and psychological puzzle, and a meditation on marriage, childhood, memory, and fear.
The novel opens in London, in the 1880s, with the Barton household on the brink of collapse. Mother, father, and daughter provoke one another, consciously and unconsciously, and a horrifying crisis is triggered. As the family's tragedy is told several times from different perspectives, events are recast and sympathies shift. In the dark of night, a chilling sexual spectre is making its way through the house, hovering over the sleeping girl and terrorizing her fragile mother. Are these visions real, or is there something more sinister, and more human, to fear? A spiritualist is summoned to cleanse the place of its terrors, but with her arrival the complexities of motive and desire only multiply. The mother's failing health and the father's many secrets fuel the growing conflicts, while the daughter flirts dangerously with truth and fantasy.
While Angelica is reminiscent of such classic horror tales as The Turn of the Screw and The Haunting of Hill House, it is also a thoroughly modern exploration of identity, reality, and love. Set at the dawn of psychoanalysis and the peak of spiritualism's acceptance, Angelica is also an evocative historical novel that explores the timeless human hunger for certainty.
"Set in Victorian England, Phillips's impressive third novel uses four linked viewpoints to explore class, gender, family dynamics, sexuality and sciences both real and fraudulent, ancient and newly minted. Joseph Barton, a London biological researcher, orders his four-year-old daughter, Angelica, who's been sleeping in her parents' bedroom, to her own room. Joseph's wife, Constance, resists this separation from her child and the resumption of a marital intimacy that, given her history of miscarriage, may threaten her life. Soon Constance notices foul odors, furniture cracks and a blue specter that appears to attack Angelica while she sleeps. When she reports these supernatural visitations to the unimaginative Joseph, the rift between them widens. Desperate, Constance turns to actress-turned-spiritualist Annie Montague for help. Phillips (Prague) captures period diction and detail brilliantly. At its strongest, the multiple-viewpoint narration yields psychological depth and a number of clever surprises; at its weakest, it can slow the book's momentum to an uncomfortably slow (if authentically Victorian) pace. Author tour. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'Angelica,' Arthur Phillips' spellbinding third book, cements this young novelist's reputation as one of the best writers in America, a storyteller who combines Nabokovian wit and subtlety with a narrative urgency that rivals Stephen King's. Phillips' acclaimed first novel, 'Prague,' examined a group of American expatriates in Budapest toward the end of the last century. His second, 'The Egyptologist,'... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) set in the 1920s, upended the conventions of an archeological mystery with a delirious homage to 'Pale Fire.' In its creepy 19th-century setting and balanced interplay between supernatural and psychological menace, 'Angelica' at first seems as though it's a trope on Henry James' 'The Turn of the Screw,' a slightly hoary choice for a writer of Phillips' originality and cunning. The scene is an upper-middle-class home in 1880s London. An emotionally fragile, sexually timid woman named Constance nearly died giving birth to Angelica and has since suffered three miscarriages. The doctor who attends the latest (after three years of sexual abstinence) makes it clear that Constance will destroy not just herself but her loved ones if she continues to succumb to her 'lascivious and intemperate will.' '"Mrs. Barton, do you wish your daughter to be motherless? Do you?"... Dr. Willette had berated her without cease, even as she held her face in her hands and her belly twisted in pain. ... "You pursue your own desire at your family's expense."' Constance's final descent into madness begins when her controlling, perhaps brutalizing husband, Joseph, decides that it is time for 4-year-old Angelica to stop sleeping in her parents' room. Constance's strangling love for the child tilts into full-bore obsession. Fearful that some dreadful thing will overtake Angelica, Constance slips from the bed she shares with her husband and spends each night standing guard over the sleeping girl. Nearly psychotic with exhaustion, bedeviled by nightmares (a process exacerbated by the horror novels she keeps on her nightstand), Constance believes that her own dreams and night terrors are being visited upon her daughter; that she and Angelica share a soul; that the wounds Constance suffers in her dreams have become physically manifest in her child as terrible stigmata. 'Dreams were restless and scattery and sometimes seeped from one sleeper to another in close proximity,' Phillips writes, 'or to one whose heart was tied to yours by God. Quiet tendrils sped from her to grasp Angelica even in sleep.' Yet 'Angelica' is not a straightforward supernatural story or even a supernatural story at all. The events are recounted by the same narrator, but in four parts that each purport to show the point of view of a different character. The novel thus unfolds like some infernally complex piece of origami to reveal an increasingly ominous pattern at the end of each section. As in films such as David Lynch's 'Mulholland Drive' or Francis Ford Coppola's 'The Conversation,' phrases and images that flit through Constance's increasingly fragmented consciousness turn out to have unexpected nuances, both sinister and benign. When Constance pays an unscheduled visit to the laboratory where her husband works, the revelation of his actual employment strips away what's left of her sanity. Phillips tips his hat to 'The Turn of the Screw,' but the claustrophobic nature of Constance's horrific breakdown, its roots in feminine sexual ignorance and the smugly monstrous oppression inflicted by the era's masculine medical authorities evoke a lesser-known literary work, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper,' first published in 1891 and now considered a masterpiece of psychological horror. In a brief essay titled 'Why I Wrote "The Yellow Wallpaper,"' Gilman explained how an alienist treating her for 'melancholia' ordered her to '"live as domestic a life as far as possible," to "have but two hours intellectual life a day," and "never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again" as long as I lived. ... I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over.' The final, disturbing chapters of 'Angelica' could stand as a morally ambivalent corrective to the protagonist's fate in 'The Yellow Wallpaper.' But Phillips is not just trotting out the familiar, gibbering spectacle of 'the madwoman in the attic.' Instead, his profoundly unsettling achievement is to demonstrate the terrible hold that childhood traumas have not just on their victims but on those who seek to help them: the slippery and dangerous nature of memory, and the futility of believing that we can ever exorcise a demon when the demon's story is our own. Elizabeth Hand's psychological thriller 'Generation Loss' will be published later this month." Reviewed by Benjamin ForgeyJoseph J. EllisWilliam Jelani CobbJames T. CampbellMichael DirdaRon CharlesJonathan YardleyJohn Dominic CrossanElizabeth Hand, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"A symphony of psychological complexity and misdirection...displays the varied wares of the gifted Phillips....An impressive step forward for the versatile Phillips, who continues to engage, surprise and entertain." Kirkus Reviews
"Angelica, Arthur Phillip's spellbinding third book, cements this young novelist's reputation as one of the best writers in America, a storyteller who combines Nabokovian wit and subtlety with a narrative urgency that rivals Stephen King." Elizabeth Hand, The Washington Post Book World
"Phillips's control of language and exquisite writing (you are actually transported to the London of Dickens) is worth the price of admission. Highly recommended for everyone who has ever worried that there is a ghost under the bed." Library Journal
"Phillips expertly depicts the repressiveness of the Victorian era....Phillips re-tells the same events from four perspectives (a la Rashomon), revealing just enough information each time to change the reader's allegiances." Booklist
"Phillips appears to be enjoying himself....He layers Victorian issues about sex and gender with modern psychology and British snobbery, and overlays it all with some truly elegant writing." Christian Science Monitor
"[C]omplex, psychologically complicated....Phillips' Angelica is bold and clever, its setting rich and provocative. Its unsettling story line unearths deep wells of intense human trauma and deception." USA Today
"Phillips' novel reverberates, rather than proceeding in a standard sense, oscillating between male and female perspectives, the supernatural and the natural world, innocence and evil, and generations too." Los Angeles Times
"Readers seeking linearity and simplicity would do well to avoid Phillips' work, including Angelica, perhaps his most sustained. Those comfortable with a layered open-endedness, however, should enjoy it, then linger over its intellectually satisfying vapors." Cleveland Plain Dealer
From bestselling author Phillips comes an accomplished yet entirely surprising new novel. Angelica is a spellbinding Victorian ghost story, an intriguing literary and psychological puzzle, and a meditation on marriage, childhood, memory, and fear.
About the Author
Arthur Phillips is the bestselling author of The Egyptologist and Prague, which was a New York Times Notable Book and winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. He lives in New York with his wife and two sons.
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