The Haunting of L.

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Much in the way that a developing picture gradually appears on photographic paper, Howard Norman’s The Haunting of L. is slow and deliberate in its unveiling of characters and themes. Set in Canada in 1926, twenty-eight-year-old Peter Duvett leaves his job as a newspaper developer to travel to the frozen, remote town of Churchill, Manitoba, to become a photographer’s assistant for Vienna Linn. He arrives on the same day that his employer marries the beautiful Kala Murie; before the wedding night is over, Peter and Kala have begun an affair.

Kala is obsessed with Georgiana Houghton’s The Unclad Spirit, a book that details stories of photographs which have captured “uninvited guests,” ghostly images of the deceased. Before long, Kala confesses to Peter that Vienna Linn has a wealthy and powerful patron in London, Radin Heur, who has paid extravagant sums for Linn to arrange horrific accidents that he is able to photograph for Heur’s private collection. Having failed in one of his assignments, Linn has retreated to Churchill in fear of Heur’s retribution. Although he soon becomes aware of Peter’s affair with Kala, he takes no action save to draw his assistant into his scheme to regain his patron’s good graces.

As Peter falls further in love with Kala Murie and begins to realize what depths his employer Linn will sink to, the reader comes to understand that Peter’s personality is portrayed through the central metaphor of the “spirit photograph.” Just as the photographs depict souls separated from their bodies, so is Peter detached from the harsh truth of his compliance with Linn’s actions. Subtly and surely, the novel compels the reader toward Peter’s final choice between Linn’s moral ambiguity and Kala’s search for meaning.

Sources for Further Study

The Atlantic Monthly 289 (June, 2002): 112.

Booklist 98 (February 15, 2002): 971.

The New York Times Book Review 107 (April 21, 2002): 8.

Publishers Weekly 249 (January 7, 2002): 43.