A Superior Spectre, by Angela Meyer, is based on a fascinating premise of time travel by haunting.
Leonora is a fabulously strong 1860s character. Raised by her father in the Scottish Highlands after her mother dies in Edinburgh, she wants nothing more than to tend to the animals and crops.
Then the local laird takes an unhealthy interest in her.
Powerless to protect her from what he sees as her impending ruin, Leonora’s father sends her to Edinburgh to stay with her aunt and find an appropriate man to marry.
There’s just one problem: a man from the future is already invading Leonora’s mind for his own entertainment. And he’s slowly driving her mad.
Jeff is a young man who is dying from an unnamed but incurable illness.
But hold your tears: it quickly became clear to me that the only tragedy here is that he’s not dying faster.
Jeff has left behind his family in Melbourne and just vanished – not an easy thing to do when everyone in the future is microchipped and tracked. He wants to die in peace. He doesn’t even leave them a note.
In fact, Jeff is such a downtrodden individual in need of comfort in his final hours that he’s managed to procure an illegal humanoid robot servant to masturbate beside in his remote Scottish hideaway.
He’s also acquired a piece of outlawed technology which allows him to time travel back to the 1860s and hang out in somebody else’s mind. Just for fun. He’s warned not to use it more than 3 times.
But Jeff is a narcissistic creep. So Jeff ignores the instructions and continues to visit Leonora and peer out from behind her eyes to spy on her life.
The effects on Leonora – who believes she is being haunted – are devastating.
You’re clearly supposed to seriously dislike Jeff, so don’t feel bad. He is the embodiment of narcissism and a sneak preview of a fairly hideous future that we can look forward to if we continue down the track of inventing new high-tech toys with little regard for ethics. Just because we can. Just because it will turn a healthy profit.
Jeff’s only redeeming feature is that he is aware of his own multitude of failings. The question you need to ask yourself as a reader is this: can somebody be redeemed if they repent their sins, only to continue repeating them?
The casual feminism in this book is brilliant. In the opening pages, Leonora gives us a detailed but incidental account of her period pain and how she tries to relieve it each month with herbal tea. Meyer goes on to use Leonora’s monthly cycle to give the reader a sense of time passing.
It’s subtle, but it’s there. And why not? Often seasons are used to mark the passing of time, but they only come every 3 months. Menstruation is conveniently monthly.
A Superior Spectre is a brilliantly written feminist tract about a young woman’s simultaneous fight against the 1860s patriarchy and 21st-century narcissism.
Despite Jeff’s revolting presence, it’s well worth reading to the end to find out who wins the fight, and how.
Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of review. This post contains affiliate links.