Darkened Rooms

In Philip Gibbs’s later novels, the memory of the Great War is always present. It is the touchstone against which everything else must be judged.
Darkened Rooms (1928) is a novel about spiritualism. The central character is Emery Jago, an ambitious young man with a ferocious desire to escape from poverty. He feels that he is special, and this leads him to the occult. Gibbs does a very good job of presenting this character, who uses fraud quite blatantly yet clings to a belief that he genuinely possess special powers. What counts most against him is that he is constantly associated with deluding those who were bereaved in the war. (As a skilled photographer, for example, he easily mocks up “spirit photographs” of fallen soldiers happy in the hereafter). The character is very credible, especially in his relationship with Belle, the girl he bullies into acting as medium.
The other interesting character is Adrian Mallard, K.C., a very intelligent barrister whose brother was killed in the War. The memory of his brother takes Mallard to Jago, but his need to believe in survival after death intensifies when doctors tell him that his own death is imminent. His furious need to believe over-rides his scepticism, and Gibbs shows the relationship between the two men as symbiotic.
Jago is able to deceive others because he deceives himself. His power increases until the melodramatic climax, when he over-reaches. Always scrupulously fair, Gibbs achieves a good ambiguous ending – is the final revelation a genuine manifestation of the unknown, or just another proof of the power of the imagination? the reader has to decide.
Gibbs was always a good reporter, and I can believe in his picture of the medium’s seedy origins, and of the uneasy relationship between the superstitious society folk and the cunning exploiters. Recommended.

One Comment

  1. Posted August 24, 2011 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    A film was made of this novel, and is available on DVD from http://www.lovingtheclassics.com/Darkened-Rooms-1929-DVD/prod_3276.html. Sounds interesting.


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