Novel set in Italy and Norfolk (a delicious mix of everything you need in a good book)
Who was Alice Bailey? A biographical novel set mainly in New York City
5th July 2019
The Unlikely Occultist by Isobel Blackthorn, a biographical novel set mainly in New York City.
No, I had never heard of Alice Bailey either! She was active in the first half of the 20th Century writing many books on theosophical subjects and gradually developing New Age philosophies, exploring themes like spirituality, meditation and healing (including a Treatise on White Magic, of which Lou Reed was very fond – apparently).
Heather in the present is going through files and she is often found at the Victoria State Library, sifting through documents and records. She is really drawn to the person of Alice Bailey, whose details are there for the finding amongst the paperwork. She herself is preoccupied with personal loss and so her research, in some ways, is a balm for the sadness she is carrying within her. Her time is taken up with delving into the files but she is also left a legacy which she has to manage.
Heather herself believes in synchronicity – her grandmother Katherine died on the day Heather was born. Perhaps there is more to this apparent coincidence, although Heather’s undermining mother dismisses the idea out of hand. Heather – much like Alice – has to negotiate her way through family issues.
Now, the interesting and little known thing about her was that she was one of the initiators for the Meditation Room at the U.N. in New York, a room comprising iron ore, with a stone at its centre, all reminders of the earth beneath our feet. A place for quiet and peace. There is a beautiful peace window by artist Marc Chagall too. The State Library of Victoria is also one of the settings and you can read more in the author’s #TalkingLocationWith… feature here.
Alice’s story grows apace, this is a woman who travels the world to gain further understanding. A woman who goes through the gamut of domestic abuse with her first husband. A woman who has developed quite a rigid formula for her beliefs, standing firm “on the side of the utmost purity and high moral values“.
She had quite some illness and had to grapple with dissenters. This ‘mother’ of the New Age seemed to have been a very determined woman, cleaving her way through a male dominated society and raising three daughters on her own. But she is charismatic enough to engender a movement, a group of “dedicated individuals with big ideas on how to change the world for the better“.
The author details a great deal of her life, no doubt founded in meticulous research, and indeed it is a biographical novel which makes her life feel very real. The author has an elegant writing style and tailors her idiom to the era – either present day or back to the formality of the early 20th Century.
The title, considering the content, is really very apt (and if like me you are not drawn to books with ‘occult’ or similar in the title, don’t be put off!). A very interesting and unusual read!
Tina for the TripFiction Team
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