Monday 9 January 2023

The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell #TheWhisperingMuse @spookypurcell @BloomsburyRaven @benmccluskey #BookReview


Be careful what you wish for... it may just come true.

At The Mercury Theatre in London's West End, rumours are circulating of a curse.

It is said that the lead actress Lilith has made a pact with Melpomene, the tragic muse of Greek mythology, to become the greatest actress to ever grace the stage. Suspicious of Lilith, the jealous wife of the theatre owner sends dresser Jenny to spy on her, and desperate for the money to help her family, Jenny agrees.

What Jenny finds is a woman as astonishing in her performance as she is provocative in nature. On stage, it's as though Lilith is possessed by the characters she plays, yet off stage she is as tragic as the Muse who inspires her, and Jenny, sorry for her, befriends the troubled actress. But when strange events begin to take place around the theatre, Jenny wonders if the rumours are true, and fears that when the Muse comes calling for payment, the cost will be too high.

The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell is published by Bloomsbury Raven on 2 February 2023. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

What an absolutely glorious read this is. I was transported so easily to Victorian London and the theatre community. With superstition and myth ruling their daily lives, and strange and spooky happenings on every page, this really is a gripping and intriguing read. 

Jenny's older brother has deserted the family, in disgrace. Jenny is now out of work and has three younger siblings to care for. The youngest brother, Bertie, has a disability and their living conditions are dire. When Jenny is invited by the wife of the owner of the Mercury theatre; Mrs Dyer, to take up the position of dresser to the leading lady in a production of Macbeth, she jumps at the chance. Jenny can see the beginning of a better life for her and her family ahead. 

However, Jenny is not just going to dress actress Lilith. Mrs Dyer expects her to spy on her and report back everything that she discovers. Mrs Dyer is so jealous of Lilith, she has become an obsession. Jenny is wary of Lilith, and indeed, she is a strange and troubled woman, but an outstanding actress who draws the crowds. Despite Lilith's strange behaviours and her often poor treatment of Jenny, they do become friends ..... until Lilith becomes obsessed herself. She's not obsessed with a living person, but with the Greek muse Melpomene; a mythical woman who Lilith claims whispers to her.

Strange and often tragic events begin to happen and Jenny is caught in the middle of two strong, determined women, surrounded by weak men and wondering just how she will manage to get through this. 

Laura Purcell's descriptions of the theatre and its community of actors and stage hands is wonderfully done. The reader is thrust deep into the heart of this unique and quite strange world, set in the middle of the city, yet so far removed from the outside world. There's a darkness that runs throughout the novel that adds to the tension and suspense throughout, with twists and unexpected shocks galore. 

The actual stage plays are woven so well into the narrative, at times almost mirroring the events happening off-stage, it's incredibly clever and so spooky and seductive. With characters that the reader will cheer for, and some that they will despise in a setting that is beautifully created, this is a novel to savour. Highly recommended by me. 

Laura Purcell is a former bookseller living in Colchester, Essex with her husband. 

She is the author of six novels, including Gothic novel The Silent Companions, which was a Radio 2 Book Club pick, was selected for the Zoe Ball ITV Book Club and was the winner of the Thumping Good Read Award. 
Her short story ‘The Chillingham Chair’ was included in The Haunting Season anthology, which was an instant Sunday Times bestseller. 
Recently, she wrote Roanoake Falls, a dramatic podcast for Realm, working with John Carpenter and Sandy King Carpenter. 

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