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Book Cover Image: Captivity by Deborah Noyes

Title:  Captivity

Author:  Deborah Noyes

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “Noyes takes the true story of the Fox sisters and the false promise their spiritualist tricks could offer a broken heart, and weaves a story that asks, What is the difference between the real and the unreal when people react precisely the same to each?”

  Captivity is an intriguing mystery, social commentary and psychological drama that explores the lives of two very different, and yet similar, women.  On the surface, Maggie and Clara have nothing in common, and their burgeoning friendship helps propel the story forward while drawing the reader further into the mystery of the rappings and at the same time examining the significance of the novel.  It is a beautifully, carefully written novel that demands the reader’s undivided attention and forces the reader to take a stand on certain murky happenings.  Compelling is too generic a term to describe Captivity fully.

The mystery of the novel involves the mysterious rappings that occur around Maggie and her sisters.  The Fox sisters were real women, and they did indeed help found the Spiritualism movement because of these rappings.  Ms. Noyes focuses on one of the sisters, allowing us to explore her feelings as her world explodes because of the confusion around these “spiritual” happenings.  The truth behind the rappings remains murky, and Ms. Noyes capitalizes on this through her deliberate word choice.  Were the Fox sisters truly spiritual mediums or were they charlatans?  Ms. Noyes hints at both truths, leaving it up to the reader to make the final decision.

The psychological drama focuses on on these rappings and on Clara’s own isolation.  Captivity is very much a novel where nothing is as it seems.  However, just when the reader realizes this, the story changes and things are exactly as they seem.  This builds a tension that never eases, forcing the reader to continue with the story to seek a resolution that never quite seems to appear.

The social commentary is, to me, the most intriguing part of the novel.  The 1840s were a time of limited options for women and even worse for single women.  The title is an extremely significant indicator of these options.  Were women captive to society, to matriarchs or those in authority, to self, to truth, to love, to death?   Is anyone really free?

“every person’s a slave to choice” (pg. 174)

Maggie is very much captive between two worlds: the living and the dead, her farming past and the rich milieu in which she is suddenly thrust, staying true to her sisters and staying true to her beau. 

“we’re all prisoners but carry around little worlds inside us that make us free” (pg. 174)

Clara is also struggling to avoid being held captive.  It is my belief that her isolation is her attempt to avoid captivity by others, specifically her aunts, gossip and even her father.  Regardless of what the reader thinks of the mysterious rappings, Maggie’s and Clara’s individual struggles through a society with such strict guidelines and expectations give Captivity its heart.

At first, the switching of narrators is confusing, but as each woman’s voice becomes clear, the reader settles down to explore the nuances of the story.  It has a twist in the middle that literally left my heart racing and me gasping for air because it was so unexpected.  The language itself is simply gorgeous in its ability to weave the social commentary around the mystery without appearing obvious or jarring.  Captivity is simply literary fiction at its finest. 

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to download the galley to my e-reader!

Image: Signature Block
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