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The Other Side of Mrs Wood

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The Other Side of Mrs Wood by Lucy Barker

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By Lucy Barker

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20 reviews

’Gorgeous, an utter delight’ MARIAN KEYES

‘A charming debut that sparks with fun and fizz’ GOOD HOUSEKEEPING ’A must read!’ SOPHIE IRWIN ’Storytelling at its finest’ STYLIST A DAILY MAIL ‘novel to devour in 2023 Mrs Wood is London’s most celebrated medium. She’s managed to survive decades in the competitive world of contacting the Other Side, has avoided the dreaded slips that revealed others as frauds and is still hosting packed-out séances for Victorian high society. Yet, some of her patrons have recently cancelled their appointments. There are reports of American mediums nearly materialising full spirits and audiences are no longer satisfied with the knocking on tables and candle theatrics of years gone by. And then, at one of Mrs Wood’s routine gatherings, she hears something terrifying – faint, but unmistakable: a yawn. Mrs Wood needs to spice up her brand. She decides to take on Emmie, a young protégé, to join her show. But is Emmie Finch the naïve ingenue she seems to be? Or does she pose more of a threat to Mrs Wood’s reign and, more horrifyingly, her reputation than Mrs Wood could ever have imagined?

Reviews

13 Jun 2023

WW

I liked the cover with its reversal of the usual layout - reflecting the 'Other Side' in the title.
I was attracted by the outline of the plot and it being an historical comedy.

Saly I found the book tediously long and struggled to finish it. The words 'the girl' occurred so often they became an irritant.

The book could be adapted well for television.

10 Jun 2023

Julia M

I was pleased to have the opportunity to read this with Methley Book Club.

I looked forward to reading this book as the promise of the Victorian seance scene sounded interesting and right up my street, but although I did enjoy the book, sadly I wasn’t gripped by it. I really struggled with it, initially, as the plot seemed to move very slowly and there was no real incentive to pick up the book for another chapter. I was struck by how very many references were made to Mrs Wood’s skirts!
However, the novel is well written and I enjoyed the strong female characters - Mrs Wood and Miss Newman, so I carried on reading and became more engaged with the tale as it progressed. The descriptions of the antics at seances were entertaining although it is hard to believe that people would really be taken in by Mrs Wood’s “stunts”; eg: when she ended up in a tree!
I was wondering if there would be some unexpected ‘twist’ or development at the end of the story so I was a little disappointed to find that the conclusion was nothing special, really, and I was left feeling a little underwhelmed.

06 Jun 2023

Kitty_Jones

So glad you persuaded me to read Mrs. Wood.

A delightful and enjoyable summer read.

Lucy Barker tells her story with nice crisp prose. Not at all overwritten and her light touch creates an amusing but not too frivolous Victorian scene of the world of Mediums and seances . In Victorian times there was some validity in the world of Mediums.

The story has some really well observed characters and without too much authorial voice, Barker introduces quite important themes ; suffragettes and the difficulty of women trying to live independent lives during that era, how we deal with grief and often as Mrs Wood says in her ’Illusion is everything’ statement at the end , how we delude ourselves and see what we want to see in order to cope with the world around. Mrs. Wood is like a modern day councillor or analyst.

It’s a fun book though. A great array of well described characters and the story never falters . We get snippets of Mrs. Wood’s tough background interwoven with the duplicity of her protégé , which keeps the intrigue going. Prose is broken up with letters and articles from Spiritual Times. All these devices help carry the story along to an amusing denouement.
All in all good read.

- Lorraine

06 Jun 2023

raven-goddard

I enjoyed this book after a slightly dubious start. I felt the anxiety of something nasty/unpleasant going to happen building and was unsure if I wanted to be part of it. However, the subject of mediumship in Victorian times sucked me in and opened up the idea of therapy for the participants who all had lost someone dear to them without any means of closure in grief living in an otherwise tight lipped society. It was also I suspect, a means of entertainment (as portrayed) in certain social circles. The ability of a single woman to earn a respectable living was also limited and “Mrs Wood” and her ilk had the ability to cross social barriers. The near disastrous ruin and unhinging (too strong a word but can’t think of another at the moment) of her mental state is well done in the story and I felt myself rooting for her to come out of it well. I also felt that the suffrage side of the story, although a sideline, was a neat touch portraying the aim of independence and value of women which Mrs Wood was achieving to some extent whilst not recognising it in herself.

Overall I enjoyed the book but perhaps it could have been a little shorter?
Jane T.

06 Jun 2023

martina-boylan

I was intrigued to read this book about the life of a Medium, which is something I know nothing about. The book is easy to read and slowly reveals more about the world of Mrs Wood, who is one of the top Mediums in Victorian London. The atmospheres are drawn well, as are the relationships between the people around Mrs Wood. I enjoyed the developing relationship between Mrs Wood and “the girl”, Miss Finch, and also the dropping off of patrons as Miss Finch’s skills bloom. I was struck by the theatricality of the Mediums world and the jeopardy of preparing for each big event.

06 Jun 2023

Elly-Jones-6

I enjoyed reading this book as part of Methley book club.

I liked the descriptions of the period and the characters. Mrs Wood was a strong character and she decided take on an apprentice and thought her popularity would improve by doing this. This didn't work out for her as her new recruit double crossed her. I felt sympathy for the lead character and her struggle to keep up with her social standing and her finances. I enjoyed reading about how the séances were carried out however I found it unbelievable that her clients didn't work out the trickery.

30 May 2023

jackie@methley

A beautifully written tale set in the world of fakery and illusion in Victorian London, the protagonist Mrs Wood is at least concerned to deliver comfort to her illustrious clientele who are hoodwinked into believing the Other Side is communicating with them. However, she has secrets (other than those secreted in her skirts) and this catches up with her when she seeks to respond to the perceived threat from those Americans..Not much changes in the world then!
Perhaps overly descriptive and the almost real time narrative is wearing. So ok but not the best read I've enjoyed.

29 May 2023

DiG564

Set in the world of Victorian seances and spiritualism the descriptions of the locations and female characters are strongly drawn. Mrs Wood and her suffragist assistant Miss Newman are successful mediums. Mrs Woods comes across as a kindly woman who wants to comfort her clients.
When she takes on the young Miss Finch as her apprentice things at first go well. However Miss Finch soon wants to take more of a central role. Soon things begin to sour and rivalry develops between the two. The rise and fall of each of their fortunes is well described and the ending is satisfying.
Overall I enjoyed this book with its descriptions of Victorian London and it’s more modern feminist themes.

28 May 2023

WenM16

Set in London with a good description of life in Victorian times. Mrs Wood was a successful medium with her trusted friend and assistant Miss Newman. She was sympathetic to her client's needs in her seances, even though she was fooling them all the time. How she set up the seances with Miss Newman's help was quite amusing but I would not describe this book as a comedy. There was a lot of description about various seances which made the book a bit too long
When Mrs Wood was kind enough to take a young girl,Miss Finch, under her wing & taught her all she knew, she was upset & became depressed when she realised that Miss Finch was gradually taking all clients from her.
I liked the relationships between the main characters Mrs Wood, Miss Newman ,Miss Finch & the maid Eliza. The ending was not what I was expecting.

27 May 2023

I really enjoyed this book and found it a quick and easy read. I enjoyed the Victorian setting and I was amused and fascinated by the variety of methods used to “conjure up” the spirits. Mrs Wood herself seemed a slightly odd combination of Mystic Meg and Paul Daniels and his glamorous assistant (in her case, Miss Newman) whilst her apprentice was the classic rags to riches nymph. The various characters attending the seances livened up the proceedings although in this day and age it is difficult to imagine these people really had no clue when the lights went out the source of the knocking, transportation up a tree and the dubious emergence from the cabinet. The conclusion was a fairly predictable but happy ending. Mel, Methley book group

25 May 2023

jane-eyre

I really enjoyed this novel about Victorian Mediums. The famous Mrs Wood takes on an apprentice but things do not go as expected.There are strong female characters and an exciting plot.
The author clearly knows a lot about the subject but she manages to convey a sense of what a seance was like and the tricks used, without burdening the reader with lots of information. I really enjoyed the sense of period. The novel is well written and a very interesting read. I would definitely recommend this book.

Methley Bookgroup
@methleybkgroup
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25 May 2023

Alice-in-Wonderland

I really enjoyed this book and found it a quick read. The author had researched well the historical period in which it is set, and it felt an authentic representation of an interesting and unusual aspect of Victorian society. The world of mediumship in Victorian society was not one that I have read about previously but loved!

The characters were well drawn and believable, I found myself really routing for Mrs Wood through her decline from popularity, impoverished but resourceful. The humorous touches added to the overall enjoyment of the book without detracting from the main storyline.

I would strongly recommend this book to others looking for something a bit different, and am eagerly awaiting a second novel from Lucy Barker – I wonder what wonderful, intriguing and insightful world she will transport us to next.

- Anne

25 May 2023

karmicallykarma

‘The Other Side of Mrs Wood’ by Lucy Barker is a delightfully entertaining novel, set in late 19th century West London. It gives us a glimpse into the strange and lucrative world of Spiritualism, a world which proved a powerful draw to those who lost loved ones in high class Victorian society. Although the clients’ trust and belief in the power of Mediums might be baffling to modern readers, Barker’s depiction does reflect a hugely popular interest in this world at that time, including that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.

The narrative follows a battle between two strong and resourceful rival Mediums: the older, experienced and highly successful Mrs Wood and Miss Finch, the young girl she agrees to teach, who becomes at first her protégé, with the promise of spicing up her repertoire, and then insidiously, gradually, a threat to her whole world. The title immediately points up the novel’s focus on ‘illusion’ with its play on words, ‘the other side of Mrs Wood’, referring not only to her role as a bridge to the afterlife, but also to the secret side she is desperate to conceal behind her confident, professional persona.

As well as shedding light on the props, tricks and techniques used to create illusions at the Séance tables, Barker shows how illusion underpins the personal as well as professional lives of the characters: facades are presented, masks slip; secrets are hidden and betrayed. Such gaps between appearances and reality create intrigue, while the shifts in characters’ attitudes and fortunes provide momentum. Barker pits the two main players against each other in a compelling tactical and strategic contest, rather like a game of chess, where the stakes are high and all rests on winning: reputation, fame, money. The ever-present threats are exposure of fraud, loss of reputation and expulsion from society; this jeopardy adds a pleasing tension to the plot.

All of this, combined with light comic touches and some wonderfully theatrical set pieces, makes for an amusing, thoroughly enjoyable novel, which could, quite conceivably, be adapted to stage or screen.

- Lynne C

25 May 2023

ElizabethMoore

A renowned and popular medium anxious to maintain relevance and fearful for her future takes on an admiring, eager and ultimately unscrupulous protégé.

A substantial book but well paced and very easy to read. The story unfolds naturally and that captures and maintains the readers interest throughout.

Set in Victorian England and I think the author effectively captured the social feel of the era. The characters are very likeable and it is was easy to feel for and become invested in their lives.

A story of friendships, vulnerabilities and pressures of having to maintain social standards and live with and up to others expectations.

I really enjoyed this lighthearted read. It was a good easy story yet not frivolous in any way.

- GB

25 May 2023

CalJones

Set in London in the 1870’s, this unusual story focuses on the work of celebrity mediums and their popularity in Victorian society. The widow Mrs Wood is the most celebrated medium at the time and she hosts many successful seances to a wide range of her supporters and patrons.
After hearing a yawn at the end of one such event she starts to question her longevity and worries as to how she will maintain her social standing and livelihood. She is aware of a young girl often seen outside the venues she uses for her gatherings and, after meeting her, she decides to take her on and train her; believing that she has potential as a medium.
It takes some time for Mrs Wood to realise that the girl, Miss Finch, is not all she seems, and Mrs Wood has to deal with the repercussions of her efforts to take her on as her apprentice.

The book offers a glimpse of a more private aspect of Victorian life and the fascination with the spiritual world. Mrs Wood has worked hard to provide her own living and to offer support to people who have lost someone close, she believes that the job of a medium is primarily one of support and sympathy; she is not merely an entertainer. She is a sympathetic character, particularly when the reader is fully aware of her background and early poverty. The central plot of the novel revolves around the struggles of single women to provide for their own lives, Mrs Wood makes it clear that she doesn’t want to get married again and depend on someone else.

However, in her frustrations with Miss Finch she does become antagonistic to some of her close friends and these relationships are never mended. Miss Newman, her friend and assistant, provides some context with her preparatory work with the suffrage movement. There is also humour in her conversations with Violet Wood and they obviously have a close relationship.

Miss Finch is a well developed antagonist, it is possible to imagine her expressions and her manipulative character as she proceeds to fool those around her. The other characters who attend the seances and meetings are not fully developed beyond basic descriptions. The descriptions of the houses, food, clothes and scenes around London give some authenticity to the period, reflecting relevant research.

The style is sometimes amusing, particularly in the descriptions of the preparations before the seances; but it is not really a comedy.

There is some predictability in the storyline but the book is well written and appealing, although a little long winded in the first half. However, it is sufficiently engaging to encourage the reader to explore how Mrs Wood is able to tackle the serious problems she later faces.

I enjoyed the book and would recommend it. Mrs Wood was a sympathetic and likeable character and it was interesting to see how the plot would develop.

- Kay M

24 May 2023

JanS24

A novel good on historical detail,a strong London setting and peopled principally by female characters, notably the widowed Mrs Wood, her loyal assistant and suffragist Miss Newman and an irritable maid called Eliza. The story begins with Mrs Wood at the top of her game in the fashionable world of Victorian seances, but times and events are changing, so Miss Finch is taken on as an apprentice, but events don't always turn out as planned. There's rivalry,tricks and humiliation and the danger of someone being exposed as a fraud and losing the patronage of the elite of London society.
" It's all about Eve" on the cover confused me. I kept expecting a character named Eve to appear as I haven't seen that film, so didn't understand the reference.
There were just too many seances for me but I liked most of the resourceful women in the story, trying to live independently in Victorian society,hence my rating.

24 May 2023

MeG113

A smooth unfolding of how Mrs Wood has established a successful business as a medium, always satisfying clients’ desires in order to remain competitive. Towards this goal, she mentors a pretty apprentice to add novelty but everything backfires as the girl inveigles her way into Mrs Wood’s life. The sly tone of gossip columnist Clore progresses the usurpation amusingly.

This cuckoo-in-the-nest theme is not new but is well narrated with a Mrs Wood who elicits sympathy for her backstory and her resilience in bettering her life. Set in Victorian times, what I like is that the author enables discussion about a woman’s place by blending current views on female empowerment (through suffragette Miss Newsom) with core issues of social class, money, and loyalty. A good read with an unexpected ending.

23 May 2023

LinH17

The world of 19th century seances is not one that I know anything about. The cover tells you everything about this story; perhaps a little too much. As you begin the tale knowing that it is partially a plot lifted from the film 'All about Eve', then there is no surprise when Mrs Woods is betrayed by the younger woman whom she had taken under her wing. This is a pity, as I'd have liked to work this out for myself.
However, the characters are interesting and Mrs Woods, despite her faults, is likeable. She is a woman who has learned to survive successfully in a male dominated society and is admirable because of that, but she is also quite kind in her dealings with her 'customers'. The character of Miss Newman, a member of the emerging Suffragist Movement also created a separate storyline that was interesting.
The book is a little baggy in the middle, hence my rating.

22 May 2023

MonL43

I didn’t really like the subject matter of seances and Mediums, but I liked the characters and the descriptions. Mrs Wood was trying to be kind to her clients even though she was fooling them. I thought the book was long and could have been edited down a bit. Women didn’t have a vote and relied on their husbands for financial security in those days, so Mrs Wood had done well to build up a business on her own.

15 May 2023

ValH28

Mrs Wood takes on a young apprentice and her life and career start to spiral into a Greek tragedy.

The setting of this story at the height of the Victorian craze for Mediums and séances is an interesting one. The descriptions of the area around Notting Hill and South Kensington, with its variety of houses and classes living within fairly close proximity, are detailed and they help to bring the story to life. The same could be said for the evocative way in which the interiors feature in the story, with their gas lamps, candles, dark furniture and heavy curtains.

Mrs Wood and her friends, confidantes and clients are brought to life as the story progresses. A favourite character of mine was the long-suffering maid Eliza, with her sighing and moaning. I also enjoyed the reports in the Spiritual Times by the editor Magnus Clore. A little slow at times, this was still a good read.

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