The Spirit Engineer (Bert’s Books Book of the Year 2021) (15th July 2022)

(1 customer review)

£8.99

This item will be released July 7, 2022.

1914. Belfast is still mourning its dead a mere two years after the sinking of the Titanic. Against this backdrop, high society has become obsessed with spiritualism through seances that attempt to contact spirits from beyond the veil.

William is a man of science and a sceptic, but one night with everyone sat around the circle something happens that places doubt in his heart and a seed of obsession in his mind. Could the spirits truly be communicating with him or is this one of Kathleen’s parlour tricks gone too far?

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Description

1914. Belfast is still mourning its dead a mere two years after the sinking of the Titanic. Against this backdrop, high society has become obsessed with spiritualism through seances that attempt to contact spirits from beyond the veil.

William is a man of science and a sceptic, but one night with everyone sat around the circle something happens that places doubt in his heart and a seed of obsession in his mind. Could the spirits truly be communicating with him or is this one of Kathleen’s parlour tricks gone too far?

Based on the true story of William Jackson Crawford and famed medium Kathleen Goligher, and with a cast ofcharacters that includes Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, West conjures a haunting tale that will keepreaders guessing until the very end.

Additional information

Weight 0.5 kg
ISBN

9780715654514

Author

West, AJ

Publisher

Duckworth

Binding

Paperback

Illustrator

Scheffler, Axel

1 review for The Spirit Engineer (Bert’s Books Book of the Year 2021) (15th July 2022)

  1. Carly Brown (verified owner)

    Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, Professor William Jackson Crawford discovers his wife, Elizabeth, is neither attending private church meetings nor having an affair during her weekly outings, but visiting a spirit medium in the hopes of making contact with her brother, who drowned aboard the ill-fated vessel.

    As a man of science, precision and proof, and an engineering lecturer at the esteemed Belfast Municipal Technical Institute, William feels affronted by his wife’s faith in the sèances and sets out to expose them as folly…that is before he himself starts hearing voices from the beyond. With the encouragement of some wealthy associates, William changes course and begins experimenting with the medium, Kathleen Goligher, to prove the phenomena genuine.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this reading experience. William is only ever concerned for himself – even early on in the book when he appears to show concern for those around him, particularly his family, I look back with the knowledge of his full character and see that any fleeting concerns he showed were only really about how others’ behaviour reflected on him.

    In the beginning, it’s easy to dismiss his casual disdain for women and those he deems beneath him as fitting for a man of his day. But these tendencies amplify to dangerous levels quickly.

    His behaviour towards those around him becomes increasingly more disturbing as the story progresses, his actions becoming more frightening than anything the spirits appear to do, highlighted excellently by William himself: “We fear the dead when, really, we ought to be far more afraid of the living, don’t you think?”.

    I think this is a great example to highlight modern-day discourse around certain language usage and the policing of it. There are many a debate in which it is difficult, sometimes impossible, to find common ground and significant dangers in stifling free speech. And yet William’s dangerous descent into tunnel vision shows it can take just the lightest of nudges for someone to perceive they enjoy the comfort of widespread support.

    Just a whisper or two of encouragement for dangerous collateral impacts to result from the core beliefs behind seemingly harmless words.

    Because it was never really about William proving spirits were real – it was about him cementing his superiority (Although, if we were to have an honest, exploratory conversation with William, I think he would like us to believe that his actions were ultimately attempts at making his mother proud, or, for his less desirable qualities, for the lack of his mother’s presence).

    It should also give us some pause about blindly accepting whatever doctrines are public flavor-of-the-month, seemingly out of nowhere, and voting in defacto leaders of such movements where their true intentions are easy to conceal behind the spectacle of the exciting new movement (interestingly enough, it is a year to the day since the Capitol siege at the time I’m drafting this. But true intentions deserve thorough examinations at all corners of the political spectrum).

    I really enjoyed William’s voice, particularly at the beginning when his focusses were somewhat lighter – I laughed out loud at many of his scornful observations about his peers! And I enjoyed how darkly matter-of-fact he narrated towards the end.

    I really loved the characters of Elizabeth, Margaret and Helen Crawford, Lady Adelia Carter and the Goligher women: Kathleen, Rebecca and their mother. Each of them was strong and calculating in their own right and we didn’t get to see that in them until late on in the book because we are subject to William’s contemptuous narration.

    Each of these women and girls is vulnerable to William’s whims throughout the story and we discover towards the end that that vulnerability was not something they simply accepted as inevitable. They actively planned their lives around that knowledge, to achieve ongoing survival and the hope of more.

    I also really appreciated the attention to detail of the time period. A.J. West carries out incredibly intricate research and has a whole trove of records on his investigations on his website about what is actually a true story: William Crawford really did research the science of spirits via spirit medium Kathleen Goligher!

    The Spirit Engineer is set in 1914 and evidence of the impending WWI was woven naturally throughout the story without it becoming the main focus. I don’t think I’ve seen that done before in a story set between 1914-1918.

    It was poignant to read Noah suddenly working all hours at the shipyard due to the war demand, and that a significant number of students were instantly absent from the Institute, having signed up to join the army.

    Made more poignant, I think, by William narrating those realities as inconsequential in the grand scheme of his life. Indeed, the only real interest he has in the war is finding his way up the ladder of the social elite by discussing his developing ideas for the use of dirigibles in warfare.

    William starts holding (and charging for, alongside his rich peers) public audiences as his investigations progress, which feels so typical of him. He would have us think it’s about teaching, but he courts fame and accolades and, by this point, he’s clearly willing to achieve them by any means.

    I was put in mind of the undercurrent of tension and dread in The Prestige (set around 20 years before the events of The Spirit Engineer) when William took to the stage. I should have liked to have seen what happened at his next audience following the unexpected incident at the first.

    One of my favourite scenes is when William is teaching his class at the Institute. It’s so deliciously revealing!

    He starts the lesson with this tantalising question: “Last week…We calculated the area of a regular solid. How then might we calculate the area of an irregular figure without a planimeter?”, following up with, “What if a circle is flawed?”

    What if, indeed! Such clever writing.

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