Took me a while to finish this one, partly because the style of it is so similar to the Victorian fiction it emulates it didn't allow me to use the faster reading speed I've developed for so much of contemporary writing. Contemporary books often, though not always, tend to be more sparing in prose (though not necessarily in weight) and I can generally cruise through those more quickly than I can books written in language that's more complex. These more involved books are often very rich, and I read them more slowly for the beauty of the language as well as the story. Not to say there's no beauty in spare prose, but it just reads more quickly.
Angelica turned out to be somewhat different than I'd expected. It begins as a ghost story that's wonderfully gothic and atmospheric, and just as you're lulled into thinking something supernatural's going on the perspective shifts, roughly midway. Instead of the wife's perspective you get her husband's, and suddenly things take on a different meaning, turning everything on its head.
The book begins inside the mind of Constance Barton, mother of the title character Angelica, a four-year old girl. Constance is deathly afraid of her husband Joseph's sexual advances, because she's nearly died in childbirth more than once, having had several miscarriages and only one live birth. The doctors have told her she won't survive another child, so her dread of her husband is based on her extreme fear. Yet she's still, underneath it all, very attracted to Joseph, a man who exudes strength and sexuality. She buries her sexual urges, growing more and more distant from her husband. Suddenly, odd things begin happening. Constance is convinced a spirit, with the face of her husband, is trying to harm her daughter. When Constance experiences pain or fear, her daughter does, too. More disturbingly, when she does consent to sexual activity with her husband, her daughter cries out in the night, frightened.
Through the advice of her maid, Constance consults a "spiritualist," who gives her help and advice. The spiritualist comes when Joseph is absent, at work or otherwise occupied. After evaluating the situation she gives the poor, fraught woman advice, as well as strange artifacts she tells her will be of use in her battle with the "evil spirit" at work in the home. The evil spirit driven by her husband's sexual appetite.
Midway the perspective shifts to Joseph's, and if I tell you that it will spoil the beauty of the story. I won't tell you any more than that. Suffice to say the story is very complex, and I think very well done.
Angelica is a little slow going, but I think well worth the effort, especially if you're like me and really love Victorian literature and tales of the gothic. It does bog down a bit somewhere around the 3/4 point, but it picks back up again in the last 1/4. If you are one who doesn't like re-tellings of the same story from a different perspective, be warned. This one does that, but this technique allows for a lot of revelation as to what may have really been going on in the Barton household. I love that sort of thing, so I'd definitely recommend Angelica.