A new world unfolds before Annie Phelan, a beautiful but poor Irish maid, when she arrives at the home of her new employers, Isabelle and Eldon Dashell, in Helen Humphreys's Afterimage. In contrast to the strict home where she worked before, Annie finds herself serving Isabelle, a wealthy, childless, convention-breaking photographer bent on becoming recognized by society. Her cartographer husband, Eldon, perpetually laments the fragile health that prevents him from joining expeditions to the most inhospitable ends of the earth. Isabelle needs a muse and a willing model for her photographs while Eldon wants a companion eager to discuss maps and voyages, and their shared desire for Annie emboldens her, allowing her to realize her own potential and question social convention.
Inspired by a series of photographs taken by Julia Margaret Cameron of her maid, Mary Hillier, Afterimage offers a glimpse of the tensions of the Victorian era, when superstition and rigid convention lived alongside radical scientific and social developments. Humphrey's mesmerizing prose pulls the reader unconditionally into the narrative, and scenes from the novel, like the persistent visions described by its title, linger long after it ends, particularly one in which a boy model dressed as an angel leaps from a window in the house, his wings on fire, and glides to the ground. Never captured on film, the fleeting image suits this novel about ambition, longing, and unfulfilled dreams. --Leah Eichler