Electric Telepath, The
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This is a morality tale with a light touch, and teaches its fallible young hero, Elijah (and the reader) ‘what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive’. It is 1894, a time of declining faith and emergent science. Elijah, a bright schoolboy, is fascinated by electricity and worships Faraday and Hertz rather than God. His misfortune is to be the son of an Elder of the Congregation of Mount Horeb, and the Horebites have very different beliefs and priorities, which centre upon listening devoutly for the ‘still small voice’ of God. When Elijah’s secret electrical experiments in the chapel are discovered, he cleverly but unwisely saves his skin by persuading the Elders that electricity can be a telepathic conveyor of the still small voice Itself. The experiments generated by this fraud lead Elijah into many troubles.
The idea is good, and the story both begins and ends strongly, with amusing but quite serious collisions between old and new. The book is a gentle comedy with a serious side, and is often wittily inventive in the time-honoured Jan Mark manner. But there is some difficulty in squeezing out a full-length novel from the situation, and the book flags in the middle. The writer seems unsure how committed she is to comedy, so the tone is uncertain, too. This is an unusual and thoughtful story, but not vintage Mark. PH