A Superior Spectre Synopsis:
Jeff is dying. Haunted by memories and grappling with the shame of his desires, he runs away to remote Scotland with a piece of experimental tech that allows him to enter the mind of someone in the past. Instructed to only use it three times, Jeff – self-indulgent, isolated and deteriorating – ignores this advice.
In the late 1860s, Leonora lives a contented life in the Scottish Highlands, surrounded by nature, her hands and mind kept busy. Contemplating her future and the social conventions that bind her, a secret romantic friendship with the local laird is interrupted when her father sends her to stay with her aunt in Edinburgh – an intimidating, sooty city; the place where her mother perished.
But Leonora’s ability to embrace her new life is shadowed by a dark presence that begins to lurk behind her eyes, and strange visions that bear no resemblance to anything she has ever seen or known…
A Superior Spectre is a highly accomplished debut novel about our capacity for curiosity, and our dangerous entitlement to it, and reminds us the scariest ghosts aren’t those that go bump in the night, but those that are born and create a place for themselves in the human soul.
(Ventura Press, Simon & Schuster AU 2018)
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This cleverly titled novel is an intriguing mix of gothic psychological thriller and dystopian science fiction.
In A Superior Spectre Meyer explores the inner workings of the mind, the home of desires and passions deemed unseemly either by society, their hosts, or both; offering up through creative extrapolation, the personal insight that may be gained by experiencing the world in another’s shoes.
Meyer’s dark and often disturbing depiction of the physical impact Jeff’s self-inflicted shame has on the otherwise strong-willed and free-thinking Leonara, serves as a powerful metaphor for the unseen control myriad day-to-day decisions of disclosure wield in relationships.
Remorse is such a common and constant companion, though, that at times it fails to be potent. My remorse has crusted over the years. But sometimes I do pick at the scab and the wound pains again, for a little while.
Much has been said about Jeff’s likeability or lack thereof. However, I think that vastly over-simplifies things, and understates Meyer’s judicious character development. Just like any individual, I was repulsed by the selfish nature of this character’s actions, yet I understood their motivations. Of the alternating narratives, Leonara’s is clearly the more empathic and engaging to read, but in this context more than most, one really cannot be separated from the other; nor the juxtaposition and contrasting effect discounted.
Her father believed mystery was to be preserved, in order to maintain respect for God’s work. But Leonora was fascinated by the way that inquiry brought knowledge while it also unearthed new mysteries.
While the alternating narrative structure exhibits weakness on occasion, as though one was treading water waiting for the other, in the main A Superior Spectre is an engrossing and thought-provoking read. I applaud this novel’s ambition and Meyer’s intelligent prose, and look forward to reading more from her in the future.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
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Genre: Literature, Historical, SciFi-Fantasy, Thriller, Mystery
About the Author, Angela Meyer
Angela Meyer’s writing has been widely published, including in Best Australian Stories, Island, The Big Issue, The Australian, The Lifted Brow and Killings. She has previously published a book of flash fiction, Captives (Inkerman & Blunt). She has also worked in bookstores, as a book reviewer, and in a whisky bar. For the past few years, she has published a range of Australian authors for Echo Publishing. These titles have included award-winners and an international number one bestseller. She grew up in Northern NSW and lives in Melbourne. A Superior Spectre is her debut novel.
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* Receiving a copy from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.