Seduction: a Novel of Suspense

  • M. J. Rose
  • Atria Books
  • 384 pp.
  • Reviewed by A. B. Emrys
  • June 12, 2013

A quest to uncover a lost account of Victor Hugo’s spiritualist ideas leads to hidden caverns and troubling psychic connections on the Isle of Jersey.

Millions of readers are familiar with Victor Hugo’s work even if they’ve never heard the name of the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. M. J. Rose’s Seduction features Hugo as a character and uses historical details about his lost, beloved daughter and his fascination with séances and spiritualism to pursue a most satisfying exploration of reincarnation.

After Hugo’s daughter drowned in 1843, the writer, more or less in exile on the Isle of Jersey a decade later, became obsessed with contacting the dead. In trying to reach her, he also claimed to have spoken with Jesus, Napoleon, Shakespeare and Lucifer. Rose wraps the story around a bargain that a being known as The Spirit of the Sepulcher has made with Hugo, and that bargain provides the counterpoint for present-day protagonist Jac L’Etoile, who helps search for Hugo’s lost account of his temptations. 

Jac, a writer and mythology scholar, has experienced visions since childhood. She owes much of her stability as an adult to a reincarnationist, Malachai Samuels, who treated the teenage Jac at the Blixter Rath clinic. The action of Seduction centers on the bond that Jac develops at the clinic with a rebellious young man from her past, Theo Gaspard. He and Jac had made an intense psychic connection, which Malachai fears may still pose a danger to her.

Jac is researching early Druid sites for her “Mythfinders” television series, and Theo uses that as a pretext to draw her to his family’s home in Jersey, where such ruins exist. But Theo is really looking for Hugo’s manuscript about his séances, which Theo’s grandfather was trying to discover when he died. The reconnection between Jac and Theo alarms the “unapologetically secretive” Malachai, whose efforts to keep Theo from Jac may be to protect her, as he claims, or to conceal his own agenda.

Jac’s instinct to trust Theo is further complicated by his grief over the recent death of his wife as well as her own acute sense of loss after a separation from her married lover. Even Theo’s brother warns Jac that Theo is unstable, and his two aunts, one of them a Jungian analyst, add their own experiences with spiritualism to the tense situation. At stake in the novel is nothing less than the souls of Jac and Theo, as well as that of Victor Hugo himself, as they reach beyond death to touch what has transcended it.

Besides making use of Hugo’s historical details, Rose stages her action in the caves and ruins that exist on the Isle of Jersey. Even though Jac tells Malachai that “We’re not in a nineteenth-century gothic novel,” Jersey’s half-hidden passageways and secret chambers provide perfect gothic settings for both Hugo’s and Jac’s quest for buried secrets.

A special pleasure in this book is a first-person narrative by Hugo, addressed to a woman he has loved, wronged and saved. His almost whispering voice, guilty and yet self-centered, confides Hugo’s secrets and coincides with action that the reader and characters need to unravel the plot. The lost manuscript’s link between past and present recalls A. S. Byatt’s novel Possession, where she brings Victorian characters alive through documents they created. Rose’s use of Victor Hugo’s voice is as effective as a séance in conjuring up the famous author.

Seduction has many links to Rose’s other novels that consider the idea of past lives: The Reincarnationist (2007), The Memorist (2008), The Hypnotist (2009) and The Book of Lost Fragrances (2012), the latter also involving Jac L’Etoile. This latest novel stands on its own, but may lead readers to seek out those earlier works. Rose reveals at the book’s end that she departed from her usual method to write Seduction by hand, just as Hugo wroe his fictional memoir. Pages from her cursive draft of his manuscript appear as the book’s endpapers, as though we see his actual manuscript, a mélange that is seductive indeed.

A. B. Emrys is the author of Wilkie Collins, Vera Caspary and the Evolution of the Casebook Novel, a study of novels framed as documents, an Agatha and Macavity nominee in 2012. She edited a recent issue of Clues: a Journal of Detection on paranormal mysteries, and her blog, Writing & Being, is at


comments powered by Disqus