What I Read: The Other Side of Mrs Wood by Lucy Barker

The Other Side of Mrs Wood is a delightful and witty novel that explores the world of Victorian spiritualism and the rivalry between two female mediums. Lucy Barker, in her debut novel, skillfully blends historical fiction, fantasy, and comedy to create a captivating and original story.

“Illusion is everything. And Mrs Wood is the master of it.”

The novel follows Mrs Violet Wood, a renowned medium who has made a fortune by communicating with the spirits of the dead for her wealthy and influential clients. Mrs Wood is a master of deception; using various tricks and props to create convincing séances and deliver the messages her patrons want to hear.

“The dead are not so different from the living, after all. They want to be heard, they want to be loved, they want to be remembered.”

However, her career is threatened by the rise of new and more sensational mediums, especially from America, who promise their audiences more spectacular and vivid visions. Mrs Wood also faces the scrutiny of a newspaperman who is determined to expose the frauds among the spiritualists.

“The spirit world is not a place for the faint-hearted, Mrs Wood. It is a place of wonders and horrors, of light and darkness, of life and death. It is a place where anything can happen.”

To save her reputation and her livelihood, Mrs Wood decides to take on an apprentice, a young girl named Emmeline Finch, who claims to have a genuine gift for the craft. Emmeline soon proves to be a valuable asset, as she brings fresh ideas and charm to Mrs Wood’s séances.

“There is no such thing as a perfect medium, Miss Finch. Only a perfect performance.”

However, Emmeline also has her own agenda and secrets, and she gradually begins to challenge and overshadow her mentor. As the two women compete for fame and fortune, they discover that there is more to the spirit world than they bargained for.

“We are all haunted by something, Emmie. Some ghosts are just more visible than others.”

The Other Side of Mrs Wood is a clever and entertaining novel that offers a fascinating glimpse into the Victorian fascination with the supernatural. Barker does a great job of portraying the atmosphere and details of the period, as well as the complex and diverse characters that populate it. The novel is full of humour and irony, as Barker exposes the tricks and techniques of the mediums and their gullible or desperate clients. The novel also has some darker and more serious moments, as it touches on themes such as abuse, poverty, feminism, and morality.

“Sometimes the truth is more painful than the lie. Sometimes the lie is more comforting than the truth. Sometimes we have to choose between them.”

The novel is well-paced and well-written, with engaging dialogue and vivid descriptions. The plot is full of twists and surprises, as well as some historical references and cameos. The novel also has a satisfying and unexpected ending that wraps up the story nicely.

The Other Side of Mrs Wood is a highly enjoyable and original novel that will appeal to fans of historical fiction, fantasy, or comedy. It is a fun and refreshing read that will make you laugh, think, and wonder about the mysteries of life and death. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good book to read.

With thanks to Jonathan Ball Publishers for the opportunity to read this book!

About the book

Category: Fiction
ISBN: 9780008597214
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Inc
On sale: August 2023
Format: Trade Paperback

Fiction: The Other Side of Mrs Wood (jonathanball.co.za)

About the author

Lucy Barker was the runner-up for the Curtis Brown First Novel Prize with an early extract from The Other Side of Mrs Wood. She holds an MA in Victorian Studies from Birkbeck College and is a Curtis Brown Creative and Novelry alumna. Lucy worked for years as a PA in theatre and heritage, including coordinating the Solstice celebrations at Stonehenge, before moving into social media management. She is currently a freelance copywriter and lives in rural Hampshire with her husband, two young children and the dog. (info from Jonathan Ball Publishers)