Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: January 2016
Format: Paperback, 400 pgs
I had read Emily Arsenault's What Strange Creatures a while back and enjoyed it. Thus, when I knew she has a new releases out I knew I have to read it.
Unlike What Strange Creatures, The Evening Spider has a mix of psychological suspense and historic true crime, and most of all it has bits of a supernatural element in it. Told from two perspectives between the past and the present, this is a story of two women who face the challenges of early motherhood and unravelling the truths surrounding their lives.
Frances Barnett, the woman from the 19th century, is kept in Northampton Lunatic Hospital by her family members when they suspected the strain of her pregnancy and the birth of her child may have impaired her sanity. Before her isolation at the hospital, Frances devotes her attention by following a local murder trial when her postpartum experience didn't hit her. Frances is not really someone who would take on a wifely role after her marriage to Matthew Barnett, an attorney who is then working on a big murder case. Aside from her husband's case, Frances is also very interested in another murder case that involves a clergyman murdering a young woman, Mary Stannard. Frances' interest might seemed weird but she is more of a science and logic person than anything else. Before her marriage, she would use her twin brother's microscope and they would exchange conversations relating to science and any other logical topics they find interesting. However, the Mary Stannard murder must have got on to her because she finds herself at a stage of obsession with the details of the murder.
Back to the present in 2014, Abby Bernacki is adjusting her new role as a mother to baby Lucy, who is only five months old. She suspects there is a supernatural influence which might be inhabiting their house because there are times she hears some strange 'shhhing' sounds coming from Lucy's room and especially over Lucy's unexplained bruised injury. Abby is set to find out the history of their house, and soon finds herself stumbling upon the time-worn journal of Frances Barnett. From there, Abby begins to piece the puzzle of Frances' past to her hospitalization days and ultimately discovers something (including her own) which surprise us all.
The Evening Spider has a compelling storyline but what drawn me to this tale is it has a gothic, creepy feeling the more I flipped through the pages. Both Frances and Abby may seemed like unsettling characters and the more I read about them, it stuck me that they are quite similar in some circumstances; both face some challenges being new mothers and are doubtful of themselves. I was also especially drawn to Frances' journal; her recount of the events happened were sad, harrowing and horrific at some points. Thus it is Frances' story which most fascinated me but that doesn't mean Abby's story is weak either. It is just that their life experiences are different but their motherhood roles are what intertwined in this story. I couldn't say I was entirely satisfied with the ending, but in my opinion it is quite fitting to the overall melancholy feel of the story.