Review by John Purcell
I finished A Superior Spectre a few days ago and needed time to digest it before writing a review. Angela Meyer is a writer who is willing to take risks, as her previous publication, the flash fiction Captives, will attest. Something this reader applauds her for.
Coming in the same year that Meyer is riding a high as the publisher behind the international number one bestseller The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, A Superior Spectre is on another level of strange and beautiful altogether.
I could describe A Superior Spectre as speculative fiction, or a timeslip novel, or a dystopian novel, or a feminist novel but none of these would do. It is all and none of these. Meyer shrugs off neat categorisations. It is not her way.
The novel seems a way for Meyer to pose questions which have no easy answers. The reader is as much a part of the experiment as the writer. As we are when we read John Fowles’ The Magus. And like The Magus, A Superior Spectre will make every reader uncomfortable at some point. The questions cut deep.
Set in the very near future and back in nineteenth century Scotland, Meyer’s two main characters are unique, fully fleshed out individuals who respond to their strange cross-epoch union in ways peculiar to themselves. This gives the novel a lifelike unpredictability which kept me riveted. And it also helped me believe that in the not too distant future we might be able to become tourists of history, inhabiting the minds of long dead people.
Meyer wants to us to feel as her characters feel, drawing us in uncomfortably close, asking us to experience their most private of thoughts and actions. Our contact grows ever more intimate as the pages turn, mirroring the experience her characters have with each other.
In turns horrible, sweet, erotic, tense, challenging, beautiful, disgusting, solemn, abhorrent and moving, A Superior Spectre is a novel no serious reader will forget in a hurry.
A Superior Spectre
Jeff is dying. Haunted by memories and grappling with the shame of his desires, he runs away to remote Scotland with a piece of experimental tech that allows him to enter the mind of someone in the past. Instructed to only use it three times, Jeff – self-indulgent, isolated and deteriorating – ignores this advice.
In the late 1860s, Leonora lives a contented life in the Scottish Highlands, surrounded by nature, her hands and mind kept busy. Contemplating her future and the social conventions that bind her, a secret romantic friendship with the local laird is interrupted when her father sends her to stay with her aunt in Edinburgh – an intimidating, sooty city; the place where her mother perished.
But Leonora’s ability to embrace her new life is shadowed by a dark presence that begins to lurk behind her eyes, and strange visions that bear no resemblance to anything she has ever seen or known…
A Superior Spectre is a highly accomplished debut novel about our capacity for curiosity, and our dangerous entitlement to it, and reminds us the scariest ghosts aren’t those that go bump in the night, but those that are born and create a place for themselves in the human soul.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.