In the Tenth House


In the Tenth House explores the blurred lines between spiritualism and science in London of 1896. The story begins when Ambrose Gennett, an eminent psychiatrist who has already embroiled himself in controversy by advocating Freud’s “talking cure,” literally runs into a mysterious young woman at Victoria Station. Something about her strange, oracular pronouncements leads him to believe she is a candidate for his treatment, but she vanishes completely. This begins an obsessive search on Gennett’s part which adversely affects his professional and personal life.

The young woman, a spiritualist named Lily Embly, is also disturbed by this initial encounter, reading in her cards that the unknown man will have some deep significance in her life. Through a series of events that are part circumstance, part subconscious engineering, the two of them find they are linked through Gennett’s susceptible half-sister, who is caught up in the spiritualist craze.

In the Tenth House is refreshingly free of cliché and uncluttered with conventionalities. However, this clean writing has perils, and occasionally the clarity and arc of the novel suffer when transitions are not clear and dialogue is unattributed or confusing. Also a little disappointing is the sudden shoehorning of an ulterior motive for the sister’s actions—which until then had been inexplicably contrary—at the very end of the novel.

Nonetheless, In the Tenth House provides a realistic look at a volatile period in the history of psychiatry, and the characters of Lily and Ambrose are sympathetically drawn.

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