A new Laura Purcell book is always a highlight read for me and The Whispering Muse is another historical Gothic delight to add to her repertoire. Set in Victorian London’s theatre scene, when Jenny Wilcox gets a job as a costume assistant in The Mercury Theatre, she can’t begin to imagine the blend of curses, egos and lies that are coming her way…
Opening sentence: The offer was too good to be true.
The power of superstition
Lilith will do anything it takes to become the most famous actress of her day. From sleeping with the (married) Mercury theatre owner to getting her hands on a very particular watch, one said to be imbibed with the spirit of Melpomene, the tragic Greek muse. In exchange for seemingly giving Lilith what she wants, Melpomene, of course, takes her reward…
This watch didn’t just inspire tragic acting; it seemed to bring tragedy in its wake.
Jenny, on instinct, does not like the cold, ambitious Lilith but as she spends more time with her, dressing her for the stage every evening, she gets to know what motivates her and all is not as it seems.
I really liked how The Whispering Muse is segmented into well-known plays and the themes and plots of those plays are echoed in what’s happening at different points in the book. Doctor Faustus has a starring role in this mechanic.
‘It’s a curse,’ Silas declared. ‘The play is cursed. Don’t you realise what you’ve done? There could be all manner of disasters unleashed by your loose tongue!’
Worth selling your soul for?
Alongside the layered plotting, The Whispering Muse has perfectly-written characters that are a joy to read. As Lilith’s grip on reality gets hazier, Jenny’s gets sharper. But given there is no love lost between the two women, will Jenny get to the bottom of what’s really happening and want to help Lilith avoid disaster?
There is indeed a curse at play in The Whispering Muse, it might just not be the one everyone is focusing on. Laura Purcell once again weaves her signature Gothic drama into a story that’s ultimately driven by the weakness of humans and the need for self-preservation. A brilliant read!
- Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC;
- Get your copy of The Whispering Muse here;
- Published by Bloomsbury Raven 2nd February 2023;
- 304 pages;
- My rating: