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The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

The Anatomy of Ghosts

by Andrew Taylor

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4679734,515 (3.46)46
A tale set in eighteenth-century Cambridge finds bookseller John Holdsworth commissioned to investigate Lady Anne Oldershaw's son's mental illness, a deep melancholy tied to a woman's mysterious death and a secret society.
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Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
After the deaths of his infant son and his wife in separate drowning accidents in London, John Holdsworth is glad to accept the offer of employment by Lady Oldershaw to investigate the possible sighting of a ghost by her son, a resident undergraduate at Jerusalem College, Cambridge. Little does he know that amid the tranquillity lie power struggles and intrigues, and that it is not only the dead who have the power to haunt a person.

If, like me, you picked up this novel expecting it to be a ghost story in the original sense (i.e. infused with the supernatural) in a historical setting, then be warned: the title and the blurbers' comments on the front and back covers give quite the wrong impression; this is a historical mystery holding up a magnifying glass to 18th-century society, and it is debatable whether anything paranormal does indeed take place as the book explores how people and events from the past can haunt someone – and even the living. Andrew Taylor once again manages to effortlessly create the atmosphere of a bygone age, along with its inhabitants, sights, sounds, smells, conventions and manners. It moves along at a slow pace, and it becomes apparent that several layers are woven through the narrative, which are worth exploring in a second reading now that the ending is known, though one important question remains unanswered. There are unexpected gems hidden among the prose, and even though the novel is well crafted, it leaves behind a slight sense of dissatisfaction. ( )
  passion4reading | Nov 21, 2016 |
Meh. Disappointment. ( )
  Ms_Kasia | Aug 4, 2016 |
Filled with atmosphere and detail, this historical fiction is transporting. Taking place in Cambridge in 1786, the novel moves fluidly between personal drama and mystery, centering on believable and flawed characters who may well draw any reader into the story.

The disconnect actually occurs in the novel's description being a far match from what the book explores. Readers basing their choice off of the book jacket will expect, at the least, suspense, and potentially a wander through the supernatural. Instead, the book moves fairly slowly, and with little suspense--wandering through the story, I was entertained, but I was rarely compelled to keep going in the manner that a good suspense story would sustain.

In closing, I'd recommend this to readers who enjoy historically set mysteries, or historical fiction that balances between personal drama and mystery, but it's probably not something which would draw me back in for more of Taylor's work or suggest that I keep on passing it on to friends.

All together, not a bad read, but not something I'll particularly remember either. ( )
2 vote whitewavedarling | Aug 12, 2014 |
That … was … strange. This is the tale of a chain of events, a sort of horrible Rube Goldberg device in which the drowning death of the young son of bookbinder John Holdsworth leads directly to the dissolution of Holdsworth’s business and loss of his home and suicide (or at least death) of his wife. His wife’s depression and mania for trying to contact the spirit world – and of course the spirit of her son – leads directly to Holdsworth’s somewhat obsessive, somewhat vindictive authorship of “The Anatomy of Ghosts”, uncompromisingly refuting the existence of spirits and the legitimacy of the mediums who take advantage of the bereaved by claiming to contact their dead. The publication of the book leads directly to a visit to Holdsworth’s shabby rooms by a mysterious man with a mysterious commission – and that is, in a way, where the story begins again. The commission is from Lady Anne Oldershaw, whose son has evidently been driven mad by the sight of a spirit on the grounds of Cambridge, and Holdsworth is bidden to come and bust, or hunt, the ghost. He doesn’t have many options, and so to Cambridge he goes.

I’m not sure what it is about this book that didn’t sit well with me. It’s well-written, and I didn’t make note of anything specific about the plot or characters or setting, or writing in general, which put my teeth on edge; the closest I can come to explaining is that it was like driving a car with a small clog in some hose somewhere, or one tire slightly off balance – just a bit off. I didn’t connect with any of the characters, but (except where it was supposed to) it never amounted to outright dislike. The story is set in 1786, and Taylor seems to have a good feel for the period. He creates a properly creepy setting for the rituals the proto-frat house holds; he does a nice job of drawing some properly sinister characters and some well-rounded weak characters (that looks odd: weak in nature, not in depiction), and some characters who can’t quite be trusted, however prominent they are in the narration. But even though it all does follow, event after circumstance after happening, there is just something askew about the storytelling I can’t put my finger on, especially at a bit of a remove.

Bad? No. Something I’ll reread, or which will send me off after other books by Andrew Taylor? No. ( )
  Stewartry | Jul 12, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

I'll be honest. I've tried a few times to get into this book, and I can't seem to make it past the first few chapters. I know others have given it glowing reviews, which is, in part, what makes me go back and try again....to no avail. There's something about this that just fails to grab me, and I lose interest. I'm frustrated, because the synopsis sounds like just the kind of book I'd love....but I'm afraid this hasn't grabbed me. ( )
1 vote mbsam | Apr 1, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 97 (next | show all)
Andrew Taylor has written almost every kind of genre fiction, from village mysteries to psychological thrillers. But his mandarin style and eccentric imagination seem best suited to the historical crime novel... THE ANATOMY OF GHOSTS pitches us into dynamic but rowdy 18th-century England, when superstition still held a grip on rational minds despite the advent of the Enlightenment.

added by y2pk | editNew York Times, Marilyn Stasio (Feb 25, 2011)
In The Anatomy of Ghosts Taylor has captured, with his habitual economy and precision, the maelstrom of the 18th century and its myriad contradictions: its greed and its lassitude, its religiosity and its scepticism, its rigid class structure and its social fluidity, its casual brutality and its profound superstition. In the 1760s even the educated and sophisticated occupied a world bristling with ghosts and omens. But, though the novel describes itself as a ghost story, it's not a book that will force you to go to bed with the lights on. Instead it is the haunting power of fear and regret that gives the narrative its particular tension.
As the days edge further into autumn, what better way to pass the time than with a good old-fashioned ghost story? Andrew Taylor's The Anatomy of Ghosts provides just that, as grieving bookseller John Holdsworth is coerced into attempting to disprove the existence of "an alleged apparition" in a corrupt, crumbling 18th-century Cambridge college.
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It is wonderful that five thousand years have now elapsed since the creation of the world, and still it is undecided whether or not there has ever been an instance of the spirit of any person appearing after death. All argument is against it; but all belief is for it. (Dr Johnson, 31st March 1778 (Boswell's Life of Johnson)
In memory of Don
First words
Late in the evening of Thursday, 16 February, 1786, the Last Supper was nearing its end.
Books are not luxuries. They are meat and drink for the mind.
drowning runs "like a watery thread through the whole sad affair"
Money was a powerful thing, Holdsworth thought, the true philosopher's stone, with the power of transmuting dreams.
For a long moment, nothing happened. Then she turned towards him like a door swinging slowly on its hinge.
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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Set in England in 1786, this masterful thriller from British author Taylor (Bleeding Heart Square) opens on a tragic note. In the months since London bookseller John Holdsworth's little son, Georgie, slipped into the Thames and hit his head against a coal barge with fatal results, Holdsworth's grief-stricken wife, Maria, has repeatedly visited the site of the boy's death. Until her own untimely death, Maria spends most of her days with a woman who relays messages from Georgie from the beyond. At loose ends, Holdsworth, who's written a treatise debunking ghost sightings, accepts an assignment from Lady Anne Oldershaw in Cambridge to prove to her son, a Jerusalem College student who claims to have seen a ghost, that he's suffering from a delusion. Fans of Michael Cox and Charles Palliser will relish this sophisticated period puzzle, which takes an intriguing look at the age-old question of the reality of ghosts. (Jan.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Booklist
What is it about historical mysteries that compels many writers to abandon the crisp conciseness of a well-honed plot in favor of sprawling narratives vined over with excess verbiage? There’s a really good premise here, but many readers will tire of hunting for its development in this almost-500-page book. Taylor sets his blend of ghost story and mystery at Cambridge University in 1786, focusing on one secret club whose overly privileged members embark on debauches that include having a female procuress find young women who are lured to a chamber, tied to a bed, and then raped by the collegians. One woman dies before she can be debauched. One of the club members claims to have seen her ghost; it so unsettles him that he is committed to a mental institution. His mother entreats London bookseller and librarian John Holdsworth, who has written an exposé of ghosts, to investigate. The engaging premise and the evocative setting are weighed down by the overstuffed plot, but fans of Rebecca Stott’s leaner ghost-mystery Ghostwalk (2007) will want to give this one a try. --Connie Fletcher
Haiku summary
A mysterious
death at a Cambridge college –
did Frank see a ghost?

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