Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James
NAL: April 5, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Free From Publisher
I’ve been a long-time fan of Simone St. James and I longingly await each new book. I will admit that I struggled a bit with the first half of the book, but there is a turning point in Lost Among the Living and when I reached that there was no way I was putting the book down. If you read it, you will no exactly which event I am referring to.
Jo Manders is a young widow still mourning the loss of her husband, Alex, three years after his disappearance during the war. Due to the fact that Alex’s body was never recovered, Jo has been living in a state of limbo and strained finances, as she cannot receive her widow’s portion without petitioning the court. Instead of pursuing the legal channels, Jo accepts Alex’s aunt’s offer to become her companion. After traveling on the continent with Dottie it’s time to return home. Dottie’s son is returning from his stay at a hospital and Dottie wants to be home to greet him; Jo must also go as she has no other place to call home.
After arriving at the family seat, Jo starts to see and feel things that are not of this world. Ghostly apparitions, objects moved, fallen leaves in her bedroom are just some of the inexplicable events Jo encounters. Soon after seeing the ghost of a young girl, Jo discovers that Dottie’s daughter committed suicide at the house years earlier. Despite or perhaps because of the tensions in the house, Jo decides to investigate what led to Dottie’s daughter’s apparent suicide. Jo discovers that Dottie may not have killed herself, and on the day of her death, Alex was present at the house on leave. This begs the question of what exactly Jo’s husband was doing on leave that caused him not to inform his wife.
For those familiar with Simone St. James, you will immediately recognize the author’s Gothic tone as well as the continued theme of life after the First World War. Time and again, St. James’ style impresses me and sets the stage for an atmospheric and entrancing read; Lost Among the Living is no exception. With the presence of a large family manor, the Gothic overtones of Lost Among the Living are heightened, suggesting a traditional haunting. Of course, there is much more at work than a ghostly apparition and to say more would spoil the meat of the story.
Lost Among the Living also continues on with the author’s exploration of life after the war. In the case of this novel, it is one woman’s very personal loss from the war – that of her husband. Jo feels deeply the loss of her husband. They were not married long, and her loss is compounded by the fact that legally, Alex is not officially dead. Since becoming a companion to Dottie, Jo has been going through the motions; she is quite literally lost among the living. The ambiguity of Jo’s position as a widow or not forces Jo to exist in a kind of limbo that she struggles with. With Jo, St. James successfully explores the price and frustration of those who remained at the home front during the war:
Someone should write a poem, I thought, about the women. Not just about the men marching bravely to war and dying, but about their wives, their girls, their mothers and sisters and daughters, sitting in silence and screaming into the darkness. Unable to fight, unable to stop it, unable to tell the war to fuck itself. We fought our war, too, it seemed to me, and if it was a war of a different kind, the pain of it was no more bearable. Someone should write a poem about the women.
But I already knew that no one ever would (p. 167).
In Jo, readers are shown the absolute powerlessness of the women who lost during the war. There is no acknowledgement to these women other than the token respect of a connection to one who has lost their life or limb in serving their country. The exploration of the role of women during the war is not overt in Lost Among the Living, but when it does make its appearance, it is a powerful force.
Lost Among the Living demonstrates the author’s familiarity with the post-war era, which is effortlessly combined with a thrilling and haunting mystery. Lost Among the Living is highly recommended for both historical fiction and mystery fans.
If you enjoyed the discussion about the role of women on the home front during the war, Anna Hope’s Wake is an absolute must-read. Wake explores the impact of the war on three very different women who suffered various losses; it is beautifully written.
If you enjoyed the Gothic atmosphere of Lost Among the Living, Amanda Steven’s Graveyard Queen series might be a good follow-up. While Stevens series is set in contemporary Charleston, it’s depiction of ghostly encounters will appeal to fans of the paranormal elements of Lost Among the Living. See my review of the latest book, The Visitor.
For more similar reads and to learn more about Simone St. James’ books, check out my reviews of: