Captivity by Deborah Noyes – Book Review

Captivity by Deborah Noyes
Published by Unbridled Books

In 1848, Spiritualism was born in upstate New York when the Fox sisters began to claim that they could communicate with the dead via a series of rappings. Deborah Noyes’s Captivity focuses on Maggie Fox and her feelings about the way spirit rappings change her family and her future. The parallel story is that of Clara Gill, a well-bred woman now living in New York state with her father, leaving behind a scandal in London. Clara is a skeptic and essentially a shut-in, but when Maggie joins her young relative Lizzie as a servant in the Gill household to bring in extra money for the family, the two women form a deep and surprising connection.

Captivitiy is a beautifully-written book. Noyes’s prose is simply outstanding, every sentence reads almost as if it were poetry. It does take an initial adjustment to get used to the way the prose flows, but once this happens, the reader becomes immersed in the language of Captivity.

Interestingly, as the book progresses it seems to focus more and more on Clara, and less and less on Maggie. By the end the Fox sisters are seen mostly through the impersonal lens of the investigations into whether or not they are charlatans, and through what Clara experiences of what is happening in their circle. Perhaps this choice was made to avoid dealing directly with whether the girls were faking their rappings. Although Maggie occasionally seems to despair of the overly show aspects of what she and her sisters are doing, it is never clearly stated that they are fakes or how they are producing their results, unlike in Paul Elworks’s book about a later dabbler in spirit rappings, The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead.

Captivity is a beautifully written book and an interesting peek into pre-Civil War American.

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