The Evening Spider: A Novel

The Evening Spider: A Novel

3.4 5
by Emily Arsenault

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A gripping blend of psychological suspense and historical true crime, this riveting novel—inspired by a sensational real-life murder from the 1800s—by critically acclaimed author Emily Arsenault delivers a heart-stopping mystery linking two young mothers from different centuries.

Frances Barnett and Abby Bernacki are two haunted young mothers living


A gripping blend of psychological suspense and historical true crime, this riveting novel—inspired by a sensational real-life murder from the 1800s—by critically acclaimed author Emily Arsenault delivers a heart-stopping mystery linking two young mothers from different centuries.

Frances Barnett and Abby Bernacki are two haunted young mothers living in the same house in two different centuries.

1885: Frances Barnett is in the Northampton Lunatic Hospital, telling her story to a visitor. She has come to distrust her own memories, and believes that her pregnancy, birth, and early days of motherhood may have impaired her sanity.

During the earliest months of her baby’s life, Frances eagerly followed the famous murder trial of Mary Stannard—that captivated New Englanders with its salacious details and expert forensic testimony. Following—and even attending—this trial, Frances found an escape from the monotony of new motherhood. But as her story unfolds, Frances must admit that her obsession with the details of the murder were not entirely innocent.

Present day: Abby has been adjusting to motherhood smoothly—until recently, when odd sensations and dreams have begun to unsettle her while home alone with her baby. When she starts to question the house’s history, she is given the diary of Frances Barnett, who lived in the house 125 years earlier. Abby finds the diary disturbing, and researches the Barnett family’s history. The more Abby learns, the more she wonders about a negative—possibly supernatural—influence in her house. She becomes convinced that when she sleeps, she leaves her daughter vulnerable—and then vows not to sleep until she can determine the cause of her eerie experiences.

Frances Barnett might not be the only new mother to lose her mind in this house. And like Frances, Abby discovers that by trying to uncover another’s secrets, she risks awakening some of her own.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 11/23/2015
Arsenault (The Broken Teaglass) deftly shifts among three perspectives in this exquisitely creepy blend of historical true crime and modern ghost story: the conversational confession of Frances Barnett, a young mother, to her brother from a lunatic asylum in Northampton, Mass., in 1885; Frances’s diary, full of obsession with the bloody details of a popular murder case and increasing mental instability as she tries to care for a baby alone and without support; and the increasingly fearful viewpoint of Abby Olson Bernacki, who’s living in the Barnett house in Haverton, Conn., in 2014 and fighting the demons of her own past while seeking the missing pieces in the story that Frances’s diary tells, in the hope of understanding the bruises on her baby, Lucy, and the eerie hushing sound in the nursery upstairs. Arsenualt’s gift for letting readers feel the characters’ anguish from the inside while showing their irrational strangeness from the outside makes for terror that sticks. Agent: Laura Langlie, Laura Langlie Agency. (Jan.)
“From the opening pages, it’s clear that this will be a haunting novel... An engrossing, suspenseful mix of historical fiction and contemporary thriller, with some unexpected twists and wisdom: “We have to learn to live with our ghosts.””
“intricately plotted... Passionate and suspenseful, it is the author’s best book to date. [...] That ending is as satisfying as the story is engrossing, taking the reader beyond the fun of a breathtaking tale to an important lesson about dealing honestly with one’s own past and present.”
Melanie Benjamin
“a good old-fashioned gothic novel with a modern twist; a tale of dusty old journals, creaky houses, and ghostly whispers [...] Arsenault never strays from the task at hand, which is to keep you up all night with a light burning until you reach the surprising end.”
Kirkus Reviews
Arsenault (What Strange Creatures, 2014, etc.) immerses readers in the grisly past of a New England town as one modern-day woman is caught in the grip of her home's history. In 2014, high school history teacher and new mom Abby Bernacki worries over "odd" happenings in her 19th-century house, such as her baby daughter's mysterious bruise. After consulting with a past owner, Abby obtains a historic resident's journal and befriends a local archivist, who introduces her to a trove of puzzling artifacts. In 1878, another new mother who lived in the house, Frances Barnett, was ordered to a month's "rest" in bed to cure her nervous condition. Once she's out of bed, Frances fakes enthusiasm for domestic tasks while concealing from her husband her obsession with the trial of a gruesome murderer. The historic parts of the novel draw on the tale of a real-life 1879 murder and trial, even including several real New York Times articles that covered the story. Readers will squirm at the courtroom scenes involving a removed and preserved face and experiments with arsenic and donated stomachs. In another bit of historical accuracy, Frances toils in the Northampton Lunatic Hospital in Massachusetts, which at the time turned a profit on the work of its residents. The novel consists of three threads: Abby's 2014 perspective, where she reads notes Frances kept in a cooking journal in 1878; Frances' mental-hospital monologue to her visiting brother in 1885; and the 1998 death of a college student in Abby's dorm. The college thread is minimally developed and seems incidental, until it ties in as the foundation of an emotionally satisfying ending. Abby's and Frances' mirrored stories are the stars of the show; despite their very different circumstances, both women are humbled by the pressures of new motherhood before they find empowerment in the hunt for justice. A striking reminder that today's domesticity is not too far removed from that of the 19th century.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.82(d)

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Meet the Author

Emily Arsenault is also the author of The Broken Teaglass, In Search of the Rose Notes, Miss Me When I’m Gone, and What Strange Creatures. She lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, with her husband and daughter.

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The Evening Spider: A Novel 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Lori2013 10 months ago
I had a hard time connecting to this story. The lead character, Abby, lives in the present time and I found her to be unsocial and whiny. She did have a traumatic experience in college, but some of Abby's issues seem to be overly odd. Another main character, Frances, was a bit more interesting and I found that I was drawn more to her story. While the storyline is really interesting, I just felt the telling of it moved much to slowly. Thankfully, the book did tie up all storylines and didn't leave me hanging.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an interesting novel that kept me reading, but the end was very very disappointing. It was like the writer just decided to stop the story and (with no effort) finished it with an ending that did not complete the story.
SphinxEmmaShade More than 1 year ago
Tangled, intricate, slow-building suspense characterizes this novel. Its layered story-telling style (three time frames and multiple perspectives move the story forward, making nice use of dramatic irony but never resorting to cheap, cliff-hanger chapter endings), peppered with detail and multiple mysteries to untangle, may frustrate the more casual reader, but I found it engrossing. The supernatural aspects of the plot are *just right*- believable, atmospheric, intentional, and, most importantly, key to both plot and character development. If you enjoy gothic stories like The Woman in Black or The Haunting of Hill House, this modern tale will certainly satisfy. I also really enjoyed the author's investigation of the themes of sexism and the roles of wife and mother. These perspectives added a great deal to my enjoyment of the characterization, but were never heavy-handed or didactic, and could be easily ignored by a reader less interested in these concepts. I'm so glad The Evening Spider was on sale- I rarely take a chance on buying work by a new (to me) author, but Arsenault turns out to be well worth the gamble, and I will be seeking out her other titles.
bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
A few years ago, I read Emily Arsenault's novel What Strange Creatures and loved the brother/sister sibling relationship at its core. Her latest novel, The Evening Spider, has a sibling relationship in it as well, although that is not the central issue of the story as it was in What Strange Creatures. The inspiration for this story came from the author hearing what she thought was human voice over her daughter's baby monitor shushing the baby. She combined this with an interest in the true story of the murder of a woman in the 1800s, a woman she believed to be an ancestor. The Evening Spider introduces us to Abby, married to Chad, and new mom to baby Lucy, who has moved into an old house in the small town of Haverton, Massachusetts. Abby hears a voice over Lucy's baby monitor that sounds like someone is shushing her baby. This unnerves Abby, and she does a little research about the previous owners of the house. She discovers that there is a diary from Frances Barnett, who once owned the house with her husband, Matthew, a lawyer. Abby reads the diary and becomes fascinated with Frances, especially the letters Frances wrote to her brother Harry from a lunatic asylum Frances had been sent to by her husband. Frances was a new mom too, like Abby, and she became obsessed with a murder trial that her brother had a connection to. As Frances' story unfolds through her letters, Abby tries to learn why Frances was committed to a hospital. She turns to the head of the local historical society for more information and a local medium to see if her home is haunted by Frances or someone else. The story took awhile to get going, but once it does, it intrigues the reader. I found so many layers to this psychological suspense, including an incident that happened to Abby in college that may color her actions in the present. Frances is a captivating character. She loves science, and her interest in how arsenic works gets her into trouble. She wasn't a traditional housewife with traditional interests in cooking and sewing, and that made people suspect of her. I also found it surprising that in 1885 forensic science played such a big role in the murder trial. I would have thought that a recent phenomenon, but the lawyers used detailed forensic information from respected scientists to help prove their cases. (I hope this doesn't mean we'll see a new CSI:1885 series.) The Evening Spider is a novel about obsessions- Frances for the murder trial and Abby's obsession with Frances. It features interesting, well-developed characters (just like in Arsenault's previous book), and the ending of the story is a surprise to the reader. Fans of John Searles' Help For The Haunted will enjoy The Evening Spider. They both involve mediums, a haunted house and taut psychological suspense. And although I was a new mom over twenty years ago, Arsenault brings back those memories and fears of new motherhood vividly in this story. I highly recommend The Evening Spider. It's a creepy, taut, suspenseful story that will keep you up at night reading to the end.
Twink More than 1 year ago
3.5 Emily Arsenault's newest book, The Evening Spider, has just released. Two women, both new mothers, living in the same house - 130 years apart - Frances in the 1800's and Abby in 2014. Arsenault employs a story telling technique that I quite enjoy - alternating chapters of past and present. The past is told from Frances's viewpoint and noted in her journal. That same journal lands in the hands of Abby in the present. Arsenault uses a slow building tension to keep the reader engaged. Are the doors really closing on their own? Is it the wind or is someone or something trying to calm the baby with a gentle "Shhh'. Is it truly gentle or threatening? Or is it simply Abby being exhausted? Perhaps postpartum depression? And what of Frances? She is a curious woman, with interests not quite befitting the social mores of her time. Her lawyer husband repeatedly quashes her spirit. Is she truly delusional? Or is she too suffering from postpartum illness? I found it fascinating that Arsenault based the past in part on a real historical crime. And I really enjoyed Abby's digging into the past through historical society records and old newspapers. (I've done this myself - it's addicting and so interesting.) Arsenault has utilized journals, books and visiting the past to solve the present in previous books to great effect. The slow building question of what is really happening in the present is mirrored by the slow reveal of what has happened in the the past. I did find the additional storyline added to the present - a death in Abby's past - to be extraneous. It just didn't feel like part of the story for me. I was much more interested in the past and Frances's life. I liked the creepy 'haunted house' aspect of the novel. The ending was not quite what I had expected - good, but not as satisfying as I hoped - I found I still had questions after I turned the last page. A good, but not great read for me.