The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor. Hyperion/HarperCollins, 2011. (To be published January 25)
The Anatomy of Ghosts features down-on-his-luck bookseller and author John Holdsworth. He wrote a book called The Anatomy of Ghosts in an effort to disprove their existence and deal with his grief over the loss of his family. The book catches the attention of Lady Anne Oldershaw who hires Holdsworth to help her son who is currently staying in an asylum after a supposed ghost siting. Lady Anne wants her son restored. In the process, Oldershaw becomes caught up in the dramas of Jerusalem College and the mystery surrounding the death of Sylvia Whichcote.
The premise of the book sounded interesting. I enjoy both historical fiction and mysteries, so a novel that combines the two genres is typically a sure bet for me. Unfortunately, The Anatomy of Ghosts did not live up to my expectations. I kept reading in the hopes that the solving of the mystery would redeem the whole book. Instead, I found myself reading the last words and saying to myself "Really? That's it?"
I don’t know what it was exactly. I think the story felt a bit shallow. The resolution seemed a little too trite. Along the way, I found myself annoyed by the language. Taylor uses period language that is sometimes jarring in its unfamiliarity and lack of good grammar. Could educated people really not use the right verb tense in the 1700s? But perhaps I’m being too harsh, perhaps I expected too much of The Anatomy of Ghosts. I was really looking forward to it based on Andrew Taylor’s reputation, and the novel just fell short of my expectations.
There were things about it that I liked, particularly some of the characters. I thought Elinor Carbury was well-written and well-rounded. I thought Philip Whichcote was just the right amount of smarmy. I was surprised by the revelations about Richardson. Again, the story as a whole just left my wanting.
In my opinion, this isn’t a book I would encourage you to run out and buy. However, all the reviews I’ve seen of it have been good. If you want other opinions, check out the following reviews.
A Common Reader
The Speculative Scotsman
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The Anatomy of Ghosts