In the beginning, Angelica plods along with all the lethargy of Constance Barton’s husband, Joseph. However, once I made it past Constance’s hand-wringing hysterics to meet the fascinating Anne Montague, the pacing picks up dramatically, and Angelica turns into a very satisfying horror tale in the tradition of The Haunting of Hill House. The story opens in London during the 1880s and follows the tiny Barton family as they struggle with a sexual spectre that threatens their little daughter, Angelica, and the Barton’s marital harmony [the last is spoken with tongue planted firmly in cheek]. The family’s interaction with the spiritualist, Anne Montague, who has promised Angelica’s mother that she can help Constance remove the demon that threatens the child, is what hurls the story forward.
The beauty of this novel is that is it broken into four parts with part one narrated by Constance, part two narrated by Anne, part three by Joseph, and part four by Angelica. Each of the characters give an entirely different voice and viewpoint of the same circumstances so that each time I thought I had the answer to Angelica’s demon, a new twist would present itself into the equation. Phillips’ prose is elegant without being too flowery while he spins a dark tale of Victorian sexual taboos and those deep seated horrors residing in own minds.