Title: The Anatomy of Ghosts
Author: Andrew Taylor
Release Date: January 31, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Rating: 4 out of 5
John Holdsworth has experienced tragedy as of late. His young son, Georgie, drowned in an accident. His wife, Maria, was unable to cope with Georgie’s death and ended up drowning herself in the Thames. After their deaths, Holdsworth penned a pamphlet called “The Anatomy of Ghosts” arguing that there are no such things as ghosts. Now, just as he is starting to recover from these deaths, Holdsworth is summoned by a Lady Anne Oldershaw. Lady Oldershaw’s son, Frank, is in Jerusalem College at Cambridge and claims to have seen a ghost. Since then, he has lost his wits and has been put in a sanitarium. Lady Oldershaw asks Holdsworth to travel to Cambridge to determine what is happening with Frank.
Upon first picking up The Anatomy of Ghosts, one thing struck me quite forcefully. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought this book was written in the 1700s. The way it’s written and the way it reads - it’s really like a Georgian/Victorian novel. It’s a testament to how well this book evokes the time period it’s set in. I felt transported, like I was a part of that time, utterly absorbed in Taylor’s writing and details. I was very impressed with his writing style.
At the same time, though, because it was written in that style, the novel moves slowly and takes some time to get into. Taylor takes his time setting his his characters and the story, and as a result, readers may become impatient with the narrative. It meanders quite a bit, and the writing is anything but concise. There is a great mystery underneath all the excessive verbiage, but this is one you’ll have to be determined to stick with if you want to find it.
The mystery in The Anatomy of Ghosts doesn’t really assert itself until about halfway through the book. Up until then, there are tantalizing clues here and there, but nothing substantial. Once the mystery comes to the front and center of the book, though, the pace of the narrative picks up. I really enjoyed the twists and turns that Taylor took me on, and in the end, though I had an inkling of how everything was going to turn out, I was very satisfied with the mystery.
The atmosphere of Jerusalem College is very well done in The Anatomy of Ghosts. Taylor successfully evokes the academic life of the time period, as well as the darker undercurrents just beneath. The politics necessary for advancement in the college are very interesting, as are the severe class distinctions. Taylor does a wonderful job depicting the setting and time period, and I can’t say enough good things about his detail.
The Anatomy of Ghosts was an interesting book that took me awhile to get into, but I’m glad I stuck with it. Taylor does an exceptional job with the setting of this book; it makes me very curious to go back and read his previous novels, as I enjoyed the combination of historical details and mystery that comprised this novel.