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Summary

Bloomsbury presents The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale, read by David Morrissey.

London, 1938. Alma Fielding, an ordinary young woman, begins to experience supernatural events in her suburban home.

Nandor Fodor - a Jewish Hungarian refugee and chief ghost hunter for the International Institute for Psychical research - begins to investigate. In doing so, he discovers a different and darker type of haunting: trauma, alienation, loss - and the foreshadowing of a nation’s worst fears. As the spectre of fascism lengthens over Europe, and as Fodor’s obsession with the case deepens, Alma becomes ever more disturbed.

With rigour, daring and insight, the award-winning pioneer of historical narrative non-fiction Kate Summerscale shadows Fodor’s enquiry, delving into long-hidden archives to find the human story behind a very modern haunting.

©2020 Kate Summerscale (P)2020 Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Critic reviews

"As gripping as a novel. An engaging, unsettling, deeply satisfying read." (Sarah Waters)

"An empathetic, meticulous account of a spiritual unravelling; a tribute to the astonishing power of the human mind - but also a properly absorbing, baffling, satisfying detective story." (Aida Edemariam)

What listeners say about The Haunting of Alma Fielding

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    5 out of 5 stars

Freaky phenomena, fears and frauds

It was 1938 when 34 year-old Alma Fielding living in suburban Thornton Heath was assailed by flying furniture and crockery and Nandor Fodor the Jewish Hungarian psychic investigator working for the International Institute for Psychical Research became involved in Alma's case. Fodor had already revealed many 'psychics' as frauds (the talking mongoose was no such thing; the floral bouquet trembling with psychic energy was being pulled by the psychic's invisible thread), but he believed in Alma. She underwent various tests and strip searches which found nothing amiss - and finally an X-ray which revealed the truth. Beneath her breasts (untouchable in a strip search) and in her vagina (even more so) were secreted the objects which apparently flew from her - the ring shoplifted from Woolworths was expelled through her self generated spasms (!) There is a great deal about other performers and their tricks, but the most interesting part of this book is the analysis and the cultural background of these years when there was enormous interest in England in spiritualism. It was a time of massive still unresolved loss following WW1 whilst the dangerous and frightening times in Europe as a whole made for dislocated people yearning for reassurance. After Fodor found that Alma's displays of object-expulsion were fake, he did not desert her. He accepted that her temporary paralyses and other apparently psychical behaviour were real and that the source was well repressed trauma. Alma had plenty of that including suffering several dead babies, an unhappy marriage, intrusive surgery and the removal of her teeth after contracting anthrax from a toothbrush (!). The weight of this book comes from the way that the whole psychic / spiritual vogue is carefully set in the culture of the times. Freud comes in; a great many works of fiction such as Elizabeth Bowen's &Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca are splendidly included as well as poets; Magritte and his deeply unsettling, and dislocated paintings were on display. This apparently crazy poltergeist craze can be explained as a manifestation of repressed trauma and mounting tensions on personal and societal levels, and cultural and social dislocation against a back drop of rumblings of war (the contemporary political events occur throughout the book). Plenty to think about and parallels to be made with these Covid times. I found the narration rather irritating - David Morrissey was too gentle and reverential. What can you imagine is the most bizarre use of a cow's udder ever recorded? You'll never guess, but listen carefully and you'll find out!!

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Insightful exploration of paranormal incidents

A fascinating insight into the potential motivations and psychology behind claims of paranormal activity widespread in the UK during the 1930s.

1 person found this helpful

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Thoroughly fascinating.

What an enjoyable read this turned out to be. I nearly listened right through in one day - it was only my need to be up in the morning that prevented me!

1 person found this helpful

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Very average.

Unfortunately not that interesting nor that well narrated. I liked the Suspicions of Mr Whicher but nothing that I have listened to since by Kate Summerscale has hit the mark.

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Somewhat disappointing

An often fascinating account of the psychology of haunting and the credulity of psychical researches marred by frequent descent into catalogs of flying plates, smashed glasses and miraculous manifestations. (David Morrissey's eccentric pronunciation can also introduce a jarring note.)

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A bit boring I think

There are a few slightly distasteful elements in this story. I won’t go in to detail but will say that some of the material is a little tasteless. That apart, it’s all a bit flat, the narration included, and a bit boring. Perhaps the fact that the whole business is just too long drawn out is the root of the problem. There’s enough material for a decent 30 minute podcast episode. But that’s is. I wouldn’t recommend this one.