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Captivity by Deborah Noyes

Captivity (edition 2010)

by Deborah Noyes

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6512183,505 (3.84)8
Authors:Deborah Noyes
Info:Unbridled Books (2010), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 352 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:fiction, spiritualism, natural history

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Captivity by Deborah Noyes



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Clara Gill has officially been deemed a spinster after living as a recluse for twenty years in her father's home. She believes all is going well until her father's new "advisor" on domestic matters begins to change the habits both Gills have developed over the years and tries to force Clara back into the public society life. The Fox sisters arrive at the Gill household as servants, maids intended to keep the house in order. Their supposed ability to communicate with ghosts and spectres soon sparks a movement that affects all in the area including Clara, even though she is doubtful of their abilities. As the eldest daughter Maggie and Clara grow closer, both learn more about themselves than they ever expected, as the Fox sister launch what is now known as the American Spiritualist Movement.
  SalemAthenaeum | Jul 9, 2011 |
Captivity is told in two parts. The first centers around the true story of the Fox Sisters, who in 1848 upstate New York, proclaimed they could converse with the dead. Their declaration incidentally gave rise to a religious movement known as Spiritualism, which garnered followers from two continents, including the rich and famous.

The second story revolves around Clara Gill, a self-isolated “woman of a certain age” who seeks the refuge of her drawings rather than that of the outside world after losing the love of her life back in London. Her story interweaves with that of the Fox Sisters when Maggie and Lizzie become servants at the Gill residence. Lizzie fears “Mad Clara” but Maggie longs for her companionship, of someone older (and other than her Ma and aunt) to talk with.

Eventually Clara and Maggie come to find they have a lot in common, despite Clara’s skepticism of the Fox’s “gift” and their age difference, and the two become confidantes. Both coming to realize they are both captives of what society thinks they should be, and the limitations and expectations placed on women in this era.

It took me a bit to get into the book—nearly 100 pages—but once I got into Deborah’s deft and lyrical prose, I found it much easier and absorbing. I think that was mainly due to where my head was around the time I started reading more than Noyes’s expressive style. Plus, I did find the Fox sisters a little stereotypical in their sisterly roles. The eldest was bossy, the middle lost and the youngest a bit of a sheep. Over the course of the book, they did develop a bit more but it was mainly Maggie who blossomed. Clara’s story was much easier to latch onto and love right away.

Overall, Captivity is beautiful and bittersweet, and is a very interesting look at one of the most famous periods in American history.

http://www.read-all-over.net/fiction/historical/review-captivity-by-deborah-noye... ( )
  eireannoir | Apr 14, 2011 |
The Fox Sisters were mediums who communicated with the dead in the mid-19th century via rappings; their enigmatic abilities eventually led to the birth of the Spiritualist movement. The story of their meteoric rise is interwoven with a tale of loss and grief, as a reclusive spinster named Clara Gill hides in her father’s home after her heart was broken many years before. She slowly opens up to Maggie Fox, a domestic servant in her house. As the Fox sisters’ abilities become known, Maggie is subject to intense scrutiny by the media, and even Clara doubts she can truly speak with the dead. As the Fox sisters grow in wealth and fame, consulting with the rich and famous – even the President of the United States – Clara begins to wonder if her friend really speaks with the dead.

The book is infused with ambiguity. It’s never made clear if the Fox sisters are charlatans or if they genuinely think they’re in communication with ghosts...let alone whether the spirits themselves are real. The historical Maggie Fox, late in life, confessed to faking the spirits’ raps but recanted her confession a year later. In this fictional account, it’s much harder to tell. It’s clear that many aspects of the girls’ “act” is illusion, but Maggie and her sisters also seem certain that they truly communicate with unseen ghosts.

Deborah Noyes has a very beautiful, lyrical way of writing. She uses very ornate language to decorate her descriptions of life in the mid-19th century. It is very, very easy to visualize the world she describes, whether she’s talking about the menagerie in the Tower of London or the dim shadows of Clara’s home in New England. It really heightens the aura of mystery and uncertainty that pervades the entire novel. ( )
  makaiju | Oct 23, 2010 |
Received for review from netgalley.
This is an interesting read, well written, and the characters are believable and engaging. The juxtaposition of the character's lives illustrates the adage, 'the more things change, the more they stay the same.'
A novel exploring the many ways in which humanity is trapped by its very nature. Full of mystery, loss and (the possible) supernatural. The novel follows two women trapped by their own lives and ambitions, one by the pursuit of fame and fortune, and another by the promise and tragedy of lost love. Both become paralyzed by indecisiveness when presented with the possibility of a different life, and their hesitations ensure they remain entrenched in their present circumstances.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." ( )
  nanajlove | Oct 19, 2010 |
Captivity is an intriguing mystery, social commentary and psychological drama that explores the lives of two very different, and yet similar, women. On the surface, Maggie and Clara have nothing in common, and their burgeoning friendship helps propel the story forward while drawing the reader further into the mystery of the rappings and at the same time examining the significance of the novel. It is a beautifully, carefully written novel that demands the reader's undivided attention and forces the reader to take a stand on certain murky happenings. Compelling is too generic a term to describe Captivity fully.

The mystery of the novel involves the mysterious rappings that occur around Maggie and her sisters. The Fox sisters were real women, and they did indeed help found the Spiritualism movement because of these rappings. Ms. Noyes focuses on one of the sisters, allowing us to explore her feelings as her world explodes because of the confusion around these "spiritual" happenings. The truth behind the rappings remains murky, and Ms. Noyes capitalizes on this through her deliberate word choice. Were the Fox sisters truly spiritual mediums or were they charlatans? Ms. Noyes hints at both truths, leaving it up to the reader to make the final decision.

The psychological drama focuses on on these rappings and on Clara's own isolation. Captivity is very much a novel where nothing is as it seems. However, just when the reader realizes this, the story changes and things are exactly as they seem. This builds a tension that never eases, forcing the reader to continue with the story to seek a resolution that never quite seems to appear.

The social commentary is, to me, the most intriguing part of the novel. The 1840s were a time of limited options for women and even worse for single women. The title is an extremely significant indicator of these options. Were women captive to society, to matriarchs or those in authority, to self, to truth, to love, to death? Is anyone really free?

"every person's a slave to choice" (pg. 174)

Maggie is very much captive between two worlds: the living and the dead, her farming past and the rich milieu in which she is suddenly thrust, staying true to her sisters and staying true to her beau.

"we're all prisoners but carry around little worlds inside us that make us free" (pg. 174)

Clara is also struggling to avoid being held captive. It is my belief that her isolation is her attempt to avoid captivity by others, specifically her aunts, gossip and even her father. Regardless of what the reader thinks of the mysterious rappings, Maggie's and Clara's individual struggles through a society with such strict guidelines and expectations give Captivity its heart.

At first, the switching of narrators is confusing, but as each woman's voice becomes clear, the reader settles down to explore the nuances of the story. It has a twist in the middle that literally left my heart racing and me gasping for air because it was so unexpected. The language itself is simply gorgeous in its ability to weave the social commentary around the mystery without appearing obvious or jarring. Captivity is simply literary fiction at its finest.
  jmchshannon | Aug 16, 2010 |
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Two stories in one novel. The first is the strange, true tale of the Fox Sisters, the enigmatic family of young women who, in upstate New York in 1848, proclaimed that they could converse with the dead. Doing so, they unwittingly gave birth to a religious movement that touched two continents: the American Spiritualists. The second story is about loss and grief, a tale of the bright promise that the Fox Sisters offer up to the skeptical Clara Gill, a reclusive woman of a certain age who long ago isolated herself with her paintings, following the scandalous loss of her beautiful young lover in London.… (more)

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