There are distinguishable points in most novels from first time authors, where, if they are lucky, the reader decides that they may have discovered something very special. It might be a piece of dialogue, a clever turn of phrase or simply a well written observation, which lights a spark within the mind and eggs the reader to continue reading with eagerness and not a little avarice. I am unfortunate to be the very ashamed owner of a hummingbird mind, quick to bore and forever giving up and moving on to the next book, desperately looking to get ‘caught’ by a story and its author. With ‘Conversations with Spirits’ by EO Higgins, I am glad to say that my mind remained unusually engaged and this magical moment where my imagination was captured happened very early on indeed.
The central character, ‘Trelawney Hart’, is in turn sharp, funny with a terrible habit of going too far in his witticisms and asides, before quickly switching to infuriating and despairing in his sometimes pathetic demeanour; the kind of man who could do with ‘a bloody good shake’. (I may quietly mention that I could see aspects of my own personality within these pages and I am not sure if this is something to be worried or comforted by).
Set in 1917, the tale, written in the form of report, finds Hart, a man for whom pure logical thinking is a habit he is unable to break, tasked by none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to investigate a supposed psychic medium of unparalleled ability. This assignment forces him to make a rare, and, for him agonising, trip away from the safe confines of his club where he has hidden away in a state of ongoing and committed inebriation. His exploits take him to the south-eastern coast of wartime Britain, where he meets a variety of odd and beautifully crafted characters, (none more so than the quiet but solid Billy, an ideal foil for Hart’s reckless and nihilistic alcoholic).
One thing is certain though; as a character, you cannot take your eyes away from Hart. Throughout the course of the book it is his voice, and his relaying of the events of his lost weekend in Broadstairs, Kent, that are the single most important element. By the end of the novel, I found that his words and his actions (some of which are hilariously slapstick in the finest sense of the word) had stayed deep within my mind, returning on occasion like some maddening but much loved occasional friend. This is a feat for which EO Higgins should be congratulated, and indeed thanked.
That is not to say however that this novel is just a character study of a brilliant but dysfunctional man, far from it, there is much more to enjoy. Higgins’ use of the English language, through its perfect attention to detail, comfortably draws the reader into the age in which the tale is set. In fact its effectiveness resulted in my being not a little disheartened each time I closed the book, as this meant that I was forced to return to our modern age with all of its haste and complication.
So there you have it. In my opinion Conversations with Spirits is a remarkable and exciting book. I would recommend it to anyone who wishes to experience a first time author with a sharp eye for detail and a warm, heartfelt style of writing.
It is a rare thing to discover something such as this. There are so many ‘new authors’ vying for our time and attention, we live in a world filled with opportunities to read and enjoy but we have only a limited number of hours in the day. There are so many other things to do, and life, with its continual demands, can often steal away and hide that next ‘favourite writer’ whose writing you will treasure and whose books you will always return to. The most entertaining Mr Higgins has indeed provided me with such in this first novel and I eagerly await further stories and adventures from him.