Captivity is a historical novel based on the true story of the Fox sisters, who claimed they could communicate with the dead. Able to convince a group of people of their abilities, they garnered a following that would grow to become a religious movement known as American Spiritualism, or simply Spiritualism. The three Fox sisters relied on raps to communicate with the dead, having the spirits count off the letters, words, and numbers they were trying to say.
Deborah Noyes uses the history of the Fox sisters and then builds on it with the story of Clara Gill. Clara has suffered the death of a loved one and while she is skeptical at the ability of the Fox sisters, she begins to embrace the possibility of reconnecting with the spirit of the love she lost. The novel switches back and forth between Clara’s narrative and that of the Fox sisters—particularly Maggie who, in the novel, works for some time at Clara’s house.
One of the things I liked best about this book is the fact the way each chapter shifts between the women’s points of view. I’m a big fan of nontraditional narratives because I feel it keeps the momentum going and keeps the reader interested. Even more to my liking, Clara’s story jumps a bit through time. In the first few Clara-centric chapters, for instance, you learn that she has suffered some sort of loss that has left her reclusive from even her father, the only family she has left. What you don’t immediately learn is how she got this way. As her narrative unfolds, the reader it taken back about ten years to explain her past, but it takes several chapters to get to the full story. People who prefer traditional narratives will likely get very frustrated that it takes so long to understand what’s going on.
Because communicating with spirits is already a seemingly fictional topic, it was hard to separate fiction from the alleged reality, and it certainly sparked some interest in me to learn more about the Fox sisters and Spiritualism. Within minutes of finishing the book, I was online, searching for Spiritualism and the history of the Fox sisters. From the little I could find out, it certainly seems that Noyes spent quite some time researching for this novel.
In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter what’s fact and what’s fiction. The novel is written in the third-person, but Noyes still describes what people are thinking and feeling enough for the reader to become invested in the characters. On top of that, she was able to pull me into the story and believe everything she’s presenting as complete truth. It’s rare that a novel can do that with as much ease as this one.