December, 1917. The Great War is rampaging through Europe – yet Trelawney Hart has scarcely noticed. The arch-sceptic and former child prodigy has lost his way and now ekes out a lonely existence, taking his only comfort from the bottle. This dissolute lifestyle is interrupted, however, when spiritualist crusader and celebrated author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle arrives at the door of his London club and requests his help in investigating a man he believes to be a psychic medium of unparalleled gift. Driven on by his anticipation of exposing the psychic as a fraud, Hart accepts. But it is not long before he finds himself helpless amidst a series of seemingly inexplicable events – and he is forced to consider whether there may be much more to life than he had ever thought possible.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.
Conversations with Spirits is the debut novel by Hertfordshire-based author E.O. Higgins. Set at the time of World War One, the tale follows our troubled lead, a noted sceptic by the name of Trelawney Hart. He is contacted by legendary author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on behalf of a psychical society to view an up and coming medium and report back on what he sees. The story runs a lot deeper than these, journeying into the life of Hart and his demons, and his beliefs.
This book normally wouldn’t be my cup of tea. It would be unfair to call it a slow book; that would imply it was dull or sluggish, which is disingenuous. But it doesn’t exhibit the usual pace that I tend to enjoy in a book, nor any real action. But none of these points are meant critically, because I finished the book having really enjoyed it! Conversations with Spirits is filled with a dark, self-deprecating with and humour that I liked. It was in places funny without trying hard to be, and the story is certainly something different.
As a bit of a sceptic myself on things of a spiritual nature, it was interesting to see things from the outside, including the manner in which a sceptic thinks. Higgins also presents Doyle in a fantastic way, with his staunch and unwavering belief in the supernatural. It made both him and Hart fantastic foils for one another, opposing each other from the furthest possible corners of the ring.
The central events of the story, an impressive feat that seems impossible, preceded by a chance for Hart to view a seance by an up and coming psychic. Some of the events during the seance led to Hart genuinely questioning his position, much as he desperately wanted to continue to believe mediumship to be a falsehood. Though his health prevented him from witnessing the main event, Trelawney visited the site before and after, examined the photos and eyewitness accounts, he could find no way that it had been falsified.
Though he begins to question himself, finally things come out in Hart’s favour. He finds his sense of self again, and regains his caustic, sarcastic and sceptical ways with renewed vigor. Conversations with Spirits is an interesting book, written beautifully, and using language reminiscent of the time. Ironically, I was sceptical as to whether it would be my cup of tea going in, but on a personal recommendation, I was open to trying it. And how pleased I am to be able to say my scepticism was banished by this fantastic debut novel from E.O. Higgins.