Thursday, January 29, 2015

A View of 19th Century Spiritualism: The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

During the 19th and early 20th centuries Spiritualism was the rage. Wealthy people held seances in their parlors. Poor people contacted mediums to try to talk to dead relatives. Alessandra, a poor peasant girl, had a gift for contacting the dead, and also performing telekinesis. She starts with helping peasants in her village contact dead relatives for a bit of food or a small coin and moves on to giving demonstrations of her abilities across Europe. In this, she is helped by Tommaso, a youthful admirer, and a Jewish Psychiatrist, Camillo Lombardi, who starts as a skeptic and becomes one of her greatest admirers.

The story is based on the true story of Euspai Palladino. She, like Alessandra, had a remarkable ability to levitate tables, and although tested many times was never completely discredited. I found the story fascinating. If it were a biography, it would have been very good. However, as a novel it leaves something to be desired.

Tommaso is a very bland narrator. The chapters are short, and his voice comes across as more reportorial than real. The best parts of the book are the descriptions of spiritualism, the precautions taken during séance investigations, and the descriptions of manifestations during seances.

I felt this book would have been better as non-fiction, but it was an enjoyable read,
and the facts about Spiritualism, and the attempts to discredit mediums were well researched.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.