Book review: Spirited by Julie Cohen

Wednesday, July 15, 2020 Permalink

Julie Cohen’s two most recent books, Together and (The Two Lives of) Louis and Louise have both made my very short ‘favourite books of the year’ listing when released.

I knew her latest, Spirited was a little different and, as it combines a couple of elements I usually avoid—historical fiction and the supernatural—I was a tad nervous. And though it’s set in the 1850s its themes resonate today. Cohen’s books are often hard to describe but I saw this from a fellow author on Twitter and it seemed apt.

spirited by julie cohen

Here we have the juxtaposition of religion vs science vs the mystical. One of our leads, Viola—who I found uninspiring for major proportions of the book—is the daughter of a Minister so has strong beliefs but was raised with an inquisitive mind.

My father always said that science was the best test of religion, and religion was the best proof of science He said everything we understood as faith, would be explained one day with fact. p 37

Our other lead, her childhood sweetheart and (now) husband Jonah has seen things to make him doubt mankind’s humanity.

Again Cohen touches on things continuing to plague communities today, here through the results of colonialism and Jonah’s awareness of his family’s profits off the people and continent of India.

The other strong theme is that of love. Of one’s ability to love more than once; and the concept of perfect and imperfect love; and whether there (even) is there such a thing.

Cohen mixes a bit of fact and fiction here and explains this in her author’s note at the end so she’s able to draw on detailed processes used in photography and the concept of spirit photography as well as Britain’s role and presence in India and weave them into a fairly tumultuous love story (or two).

And though we touch on spiritualism (in various senses of the word), societal norms and history—for me—this book is ultimately about acceptance and our ability to see the people beneath the labels we give them.

Book review: Spirited by Julie CohenSpirited
by Julie Cohen
Published by Orion Publishing Co
on 09/07/2020
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
ISBN: 9781409179870
Pages: 352

Viola has an impossible talent. Searching for meaning in her grief, she uses her photography to feel closer to her late father, taking solace from the skills he taught her - and to keep her distance from her husband. But her pictures seem to capture things invisible to the eye . . .

Henriette is a celebrated spirit medium, carrying nothing but her secrets with her as she travels the country. When she meets Viola, a powerful connection is sparked between them - but Victorian society is no place for reckless women.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, invisible threads join Viola and Henriette to another woman who lives in secrecy, hiding her dangerous act of rebellion in plain sight.

Spirited by Julie Cohen was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 

** I’m trialling some changes to the way I review books as I’d like to make them more succinct **


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