July 18, 2010

Book Review: Captivity by Deborah Noyes

Welcome Lisa from Lit and Life

"Captivity" by Deborah Noyes
352 pages
Published June 2010 by Unbridled Books
Source: the publisher--thanks, Caitlin!

Kim, of Sophisticated Dorkiness, recently coined the term "non-fiction fiction" in a guest post on The 3 R's Blog. "Captivity" fits squarely into that term. In the mid-19th century, the Fox sisters of rural New York created a sensation when they claimed to be able to communicate with the dead. Noyes has taken those facts and written them into a work of fiction.

The book opens in 1848 when teenaged Maggie Fox and her younger sister, Kate, claim that rapping sounds in their house are the communications of a peddler who was murdered and buried in the house. Word quickly spreads and soon men are madly digging for the body in the basement and the family has had to remove themselves to a brother's farm. There they were soon surrounded by people camped all over the property. The girls' sister, Leah, certain that all of the uproar is merely a hoax, convinces their mother that the girls should be brought to Rochester. The thing is, the rappings continue no matter where they girls are living--it seems there are spirits living every where and Leah quickly decides that there is much to be gained by promoting the girls' "ability" to communicate with the dead. All of which leads to the founding of the American Spiritualist movement and makes the girls both famous and infamous. Maggie quickly begins to have mixed feelings about what's happening, no longer sure of what's real or if she wants to be a part of it all.

"And what's the difference, after all, between real and unreal when people react precisely the same way to either? Doesn't the Bible say somewhere, Ask and you'll receive? Well, Maggie's asking, and since this spirit game started, no one's told her no. Her whole life before the peddler was one agonizing no."

Clara Gill and her father have come to the United States following a scandal in England. Clara has become a recluse, a situation her father has been more than happy to encourage.

"She's spent her lifetime reining herself in, not for society's sake but for her own: she has a knack and a preference for revealing next to nothing about herself."

"Sometimes she feels she is nothing now but consciousness, unmoving in her chair, tracking the ever-changing light, the astonishing clouds flying past, the fat fly that circled and circled inside the shade of her reading lamp, knocking like a drunken fool at her thoughts She forgets she has a body, and when she remembers, grief rests like lead on her chest, in which her heart still beats in its old frame, stubborn as rain."

But when a woman trying to woo Mr. Gill convinces him to hire a couple of girls to help around the house, Maggie Fox comes into Clara's life. Maggie is desperate for someone to connect with and is willing to do whatever it takes to break through Clara's substantial shell. And Clara, who is fully aware of Maggie's notoriety, has her own reasons for allowing Maggie in to her life. As the book progresses, Clara is drawn more and more into her past, a time when she was young, an artist and in love. Together, the two women explore skepticism in all things.

Noyes deftly blends the fiction and the non-fiction, the story of Maggie and the story of Clara, the present time of the novel and Clara's past. It is a work that explores love, grief and faith with a shadow overhanging all things.

"Lyrical" is a word that appears in many of the reviews for this book. For good reason; Noyes writing is often poetic in its descriptions.

"Real death is not a parlor game but a flat heaviness that weights the limbs, that makes every step a struggle, every breath reproach and volition. It is mold on the morning firewood and a chill that won't go even when the hearth is banked to roaring, even when the familiar quilt is wound full round weighted legs and feet on a stool like a winding sheet. It is the bitterness of herbs in an undertaker's parlor and damp shoes by a hole in the ground and the absence of sunlight and emptiness beyond reckoning."

Noyes drew me in immediately and made me care about the characters, particularly Clara. I was compelled to read on to find out what had happened to her in England and what might become of her once Maggie came into her life. I promised Caitlin, at Unbridled Books, I'd review this book a while ago. And I wanted to--I mean that cover alone screamed "read me now." But I also knew that I wanted to make sure I had time with this book and I'm so glad I held off on reading it. It is every bit as beautiful and mysterious as that cover.

Thanks to Lisa for allowing us to republish this review here. Visit Lisa and read more of her book reviews at her website Lit and Life


  1. Great review Lisa! This book really sounds like a must-read. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  2. I am looking forward to reading this one as well. "Lyrical" definitely sounds intriguing!
    Thanks for the review!


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