Author: Angela Meyer
Publisher: Ventura Press
First Published: 01 August 2018
Rating: 4 stars
“This water is so clear I can lean over and see myself. I am Narcissus, in love with the image of my suffering, fixed in place and soon to drown.”
I will start by saying that I was given an ARC copy in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own. Thank you so much to Ventura Press and NetGalley!
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 know.
This book was marketed with a link to the Outlander series and Margaret Atwood’s dystopian feminism. While it does have the same vivid historical setting as Outland, I will say this book leans more to the dystopian side. There is quite a dark and gothic tone to this story.
Jeff has skyrocketed to the top of my most hated characters. He is a self-indulgent and self-absorbed man. It’s evident from the start when he flees Melbourne for the Scottish Highlands to die. He takes percussions so his family will never find him and—unwittingly—leaves his illness as the responsibility of his landlord, Bethea. He spends his time lamenting all the horrible things he’s done, trying to prove he is a changed man while the same time refusing to stop taking the drug that allows him to invade the mind of Leonora. He is despicable but at the same time oddly compelling. At the start of the book, Leonora’s sections were pulling me through the story but as it progressed I was equally invested in both.
I adore Leonora’s section; they were full of lush historical settings and authenticity. We see her struggle to find her voice as she’s pushed away from her family home in the Highlands due to her father’s wishes to remarry. It’s really heartbreaking to see that her firm desire to stay in the Highlands and work on the farm is disregarded, but she heads to Edinburgh to live with her Aunt with the purposes of finding a suitable husband. It’s at this time, Jeff seems to take it upon himself to infuse his own memories and desires with her. It was horrible to see Leonora, this strong-willed girl, struggle under the weight of Jeff’s influence and the strict patriarchal society of the 1860s. She suffers as she’s not allowed to live she wants, be free to set her own future — much like many women in our history.
I loved that Angela Meyer plays with the voice of the novel. At the start, Jeff’s sections are in first person as he’s essentially confessing his sins as a dying man. And Leonora’s sections are in third person. However, as Jeff abuses the drug and causes him to invade Leonora’s mind both are told in first person. It’s beautifully done as they both contain their own voice and you can feel Leonora’s struggle with the oppression.
A Superior Spectre is at times disturbing but wholly engrossing, a cautionary tale of greed and the misuse of science in gothic proportions. Meyer brings a strong voice to the Australian literary scene and I’m excited to see what she does next.