This is my second Memorial Day read that not only touches several continents but it also takes place in the past. THE HOUSE OF VELVET AND GLASS by Katherine Howe has a perfect title for the story found within.
When I viewed this stunning cover art I knew it had to be a period piece and with the picture of the Titanic plus the publication date I thought it would take place upon the great ship. Actually the ship sets the stage for the voyage within but very little time is spent on the boat or with its passengers.
The Allston family that is going through the paces of everyday life to find their way after the loss of two beloved members of its family on the ship. Those left behind are Lan, Sibyl and Harlan but none of them were booked for passage on the ship so it was a different kind of remorse and sadness to cope with. It was as if a light had gone out in this house and within the surviving family.
Howe provides the back story to Mr. Allston through chapters labeled “Interlude” interspersed throughout. Normally I am not a fan of novels that jump time and locations by chapter but the organization here made it tolerable. For the most part the story takes place in Boston in 1915 several years after the Titanic went down.
Sibyl and her journey after the death of her mother Helen and younger sister Eulah are the focus of this novel. Sibyl joins other prominent Boston families who suffered loss courtesy of the Titanic at medium Mrs. Dee’s home. Through cheap parlor tricks Mrs. Dee tries to comfort those in need.
Mrs. Dee gifts Sibyl a crystal ball and she begins to have visions. When Sibyl utilizes substances such as laudanum or its pure form opium she is able to conjure up visions in the ball. Soon she cannot stop inducing the visions as she thinks it has the answers to fix her family.
During this time Sibyl’s one true love, Benton Derby, returns into her life. He is clearly glad to be back in Sibyl’s life but soon circumstances draw him even close. Derby is able to help her with her brother and also with her so-called visions as well. Derby is not initially a spiritual believer but through his renewed affection for Sibyl he helps her get to the bottom of things.
There can be no question that good or bad Sibyl’s visions bring her closer to those she loves. And in turn this allows her to return to the present and start to live her life. It took me many chapters to find the rhythm in this book but once I did I was gripped by the story and glad I had taken the journey.
I own THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE audiobook which was Katherine Howe’s first literary endeavor and I look forward to listening to it. Also, congratulations to Ms. Howe who receives her Ph.D. from Boston University in 2012. I too graduated from B.U. although it was not with a doctorate degree in hand.