three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
29-July-Aug-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-AngelicaIn turn-of-the-20th-century London, all of the characters are in place for a Dickensian spook story: Joseph Barton, the sexually frustrated husband; Constance Barton, the hysterical wife with a history of miscarriages; and Angelica, the daughter whose arrival changed both their lives. One fateful day, Joseph decides that Angelica, now four, must move out of her mother’s bed so that he can resume marital intimacies in peace. Constance, knowing that another pregnancy would be murder, fights her fear, only to start seeing blue specters haunting her daughter.
Random House. 331 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 1400062519

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Phillips appears to be enjoying himself, twisting his domestic melodrama ever tighter. He layers Victorian issues about sex and gender with modern psychology and British snobbery, and overlays it all with some truly elegant writing." Yvonne Zipp

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The novel becomes rich with artfully orchestrated ‘mirror moments,’ in which a gesture or word that seemed threatening or unsavory from an earlier perspective appears entirely innocent or reasonable from another later viewpoint—and vice versa." Michael Upchurch

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Angelica, Arthur Phillips’s spellbinding third book, cements this young novelist’s reputation as one of the best writers in America, a storyteller who combines Nabokovian wit and subtlety with a narrative urgency that rivals Stephen King’s." Elizabeth Hand

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Even though [Philips] takes a long time to get to the point, when he does, his artfully contrived, extraordinarily well-written view of a dysfunctional family resonates in unexpected ways." Carlo Wolff

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Readers of Phillips’ Prague (expatriates in Budapest) and The Egyptologist (an archeological whodunit) will find Angelica to be a more seriously cast novel in which ’truth’ never materializes. Every attempt is made to erase closure and finality." Art Winslow

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"Phillips has written a charming novel in which old-fashioned phantoms cleverly give way to Freudian nightmares. … In the end, Angelica struggles to make sense of the fascinating images it conjures, explaining them at too great a length." Andrew Sean Greer

Boston Globe 2.5 of 5 Stars
"With a writer as talented as Phillips, we are willing to follow him pretty much wherever his interests take him—at least for a while. But it takes a long time for Phillips to unfurl his sails in Angelica, and the reader needs to tack constantly to catch the wind." Heller McAlpin

Critical Summary

In Angelica, the talented Arthur Phillips (Prague, 3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2002) pays homage to Henry James’s famous ghost story, "The Turn of the Screw," but piles on multiple viewpoints to add maddening and obscure layers to the story. Reviewers loved the way Phillips tackles Freudian issues and shows how men and women process the same narrative differently. His pacing may strike some as slow—it is a Victorian novel, after all—but it yields a chilling, surprising tale of great psychological depth. "Readers seeking linearity and simplicity would do well to avoid Phillips’ work," suggests the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Those comfortable with a layered open-endedness, however, should enjoy it, then linger over its intellectually satisfying vapors."