BookBrowse Reviews The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Anatomy of Ghosts

by Andrew Taylor

The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor X
The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2011, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2012, 432 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


A suspenseful thriller set in late 18th century Cambridge, England

Though Andrew Taylor's riveting novel is billed as a mystery infused with a ghost story, it is considerably more literary than it might appear. The plot concerns the investigation of a murder and a ghost, but all of the characters are haunted by something - regret, failed ambition - and it is around these "hauntings" that the story revolves. As John Holdsworth investigates the oddities of Sylvia Whichcote's death, it is clear that this novel is wrestling with larger issues: Is it possible to escape the pain of the past? And how do past disappointments blind you from seeing the truth of the present? These piquant questions have broad applications as each character struggles to determine what they should hide or reveal.

The characters jump off the page, but perhaps the most absorbing aspect is the book's setting. Taylor plunges the reader into 1780s England, a world divided by class and smudged with dirt. The details about dress, architecture, and interior design feel perfect, and it is clear that Taylor knows exactly what he is doing with time and place. Much historical fiction is brought down by poor dialogue, because if this important element is off-key, the authenticity of the writing crumbles, creating an uncomfortable reading experience - but the syntax, diction, and cadence of dialogue in The Anatomy of Ghosts is delightfully executed.

At the center of the novel is John Holdsworth, a poor bookseller recovering from a family tragedy. He is hired as a detective on the strength of his lucid argument against the presence of spirits in the eponymously named pamphlet "The Anatomy of Ghosts". His decision to write this treatise came out of his own frustration watching his wife's obsessive attempts to contact their dead son. Ironically, this small project that helped him make some sense of his wife's irrationality ends up being the catalyst that changes his life.

Holdsworth is an unlikely sleuth, preferring the solace of books over the pressures of solving mysteries. He soon realizes, however, that solving this mystery may be a way to salve his own disappointments. He discovers that the ghosts of his past are everywhere: Frank Oldershaw reminds him of what it felt like to be a father, and the lovely (and married) Elinor is faintly reminiscent of his own wife. As he delves deeper into the confusion at Cambridge, he learns that he is actually meeting his own demons.

Just as Holdsworth struggles with his past, so do the other characters. The circumstances around Sylvia's death are changeable based on perspective and bias. Each of the characters believes that they play one role only to discover that what they think isn't always true. The result is a chessboard of moveable pieces and evolving views, one that requires a cool head to unravel. The solution is satisfying, albeit slightly predictable. For readers looking for a nuanced, spellbinding whodunit, this is not the best choice. The strength of The Anatomy of Ghosts lies in its characterization and historical setting. The mystery will keep the pages turning, but the characters will haunt you long after you've finished reading.

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in February 2011, and has been updated for the February 2012 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Treatment of the Mentally Ill

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: Becoming
    Becoming
    by Michelle Obama
    Voted 2019 Best Nonfiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    BookBrowse hosted a Book Club ...
  • Book Jacket: Butterfly Yellow
    Butterfly Yellow
    by Thanhha Lai, Daniel Suarez
    Voted 2019 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    As readers, many of us hope ...
  • Book Jacket: Olive, Again
    Olive, Again
    by Elizabeth Strout
    Voted 2019 Best Fiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    It's been a big year for literary ...
  • Book Jacket: Solitary
    Solitary
    by Albert Woodfox
    Voted 2019 Best Debut Author Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    According to statistics from ...

Book Club
Book Jacket
Evening in Paradise
by Lucia Berlin

"Berlin's new book is a marvel, filled with deeply touching stories about lives on the fringes."—NPR

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Nothing to See Here
    by Kevin Wilson

    A moving and uproarious novel about a woman who finds meaning caring for two children with remarkable abilities.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Butterfly Yellow

BUTTERFLY YELLOW

Winner of the BookBrowse Award for Best Young Adult Novel, and the overall highest rated book of the year!

Enter

Wordplay

The Big Holiday Wordplay

Enter Now

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.