The Shape of Darkness

Written by Laura Purcell
Review by Karen Warren

Set in the city of Bath in the 19th century, The Shape of Darkness is a wonderfully tangled Gothic tale. It features Agnes, a silhouette cutter with a troubled past; Pearl, an albino child medium; and a serial killer on the loose. We encounter early experiments with photography, Victorian medicine, and Mesmerism. The city itself is a character: dank and decaying, often musty.

As the killings mount up Agnes fears that she is somehow connected with the killer, and events start to spiral out of control. The reader is left wondering how the different elements of the story will come together, until a sequence of twists and turns at the end bring it to a surprising conclusion.

The motif of light and shade runs through the novel. It is permeated by half-light, ghosts and shades. Silhouettes and photography are likened to the capturing of the soul, and Pearl is surrounded by mists and ectoplasm. If the present is elusive, the past is even more so, and Agnes struggles to recall her own history, to catch more than a few half-remembered glimpses.

I enjoyed the descriptive prose of The Shape of Darkness, and the story was full of mystery and intrigue. A satisfying and compulsive read.