Book review: Ferney

Complex reincarnation tale delightfully defies expectations

Ferney by James Long, reincarnation novel, new age fiction, metaphysical fiction, spiritual fictionRating: 4 out of 5 stars

Pick up a reincarnation novel, and you know what to expect, right? Not with James Long’s Ferney, a complex story that defies your expectations at every turn. Written with a historian’s attention to detail, this tale of love  spanning fifteen centuries of English revolution keeps you guessing long after you finish the book.

Story: Though Gally Martin has the unfailing love and support of her husband Mike, she has always known a deep yearning for something else. When Mike and Gally pass through the small country village of Penselwood on a house-hunting excursion, they discover an abandoned house and an elderly neighbor named Ferney. The moment Gally sees Ferney and the home, she feels the tremors of a long-dormant emotion stirring in her core. Desperate soothe the anxieties that have always haunted Gally–and overlooking the strange Ferney–Mike agrees to buy the dilapidated home. While the house seems to bring Gally a newfound sense of stability, she is alternately intrigued and troubled by the aged Ferney–she feels an enormous pull toward him but cannot understand his allure or her growing sense of betrayal. How can she be so attracted to such a strange, older man? When Ferney begins to tell Gally of his past, she feels her confusion growing. He describes a mysterious relationship that transcends time, a connection stronger than that of siblings or even lovers. Unable to reject his words or ignore the ephemeral evidence in her own memory, Gally must test her heart and wager her destiny. (From

Spiritual/metaphysical content: Medium. Long plays with the idea of reincarnation in this unpredictable love story. What if, because they died together in the shadow of a mysterious stone in England’s Dark Ages, a pair of lovers returns to the same place immediately after death, able to remember all their lives together? He side-steps the issue of reincarnation in general, focusing only on the experiences of Ferney and Gally. The “what ifs” allow him to pose a number of interesting questions, such as how would you behave differently if you retained all your memories? What if knowing your soul mate leads to moral dilemmas?

My take:  James Long’s reasonably well-crafted novel demonstrates that even a formulaic love story can be reframed in a fresh, startling way by a skilled storyteller. A murder, an incarnation that can’t be accounted for, and other unexpected complications add to the complex plot  that builds right to the end. The historical detail may prove tedious to some (particularly non-Anglophiles), but the depth of perception is often startling. Because Ferney can take the long perspective, he comments on aspects of human nature that reveal great insight. For instance, we widely assume that industrialization changed the world, but the real turning point came centuries earlier when time could be precisely measured. Another example is how rapid transit changed our perspective; you don’t pollute a path you step upon every day.  For me, the unexpected twists in what should have been a predictable reincarnation plot were worth the price of wading through the details of the multiple invasions of England. The great dilemma facing Gally and her husband as she helps the dying Ferney–her soul mate and fifty years her senior–kept me guessing even after I turned the last page and left me wishing for more.

Ferney, by James Long
Published by Bantam, 2000
Paperback, 437 pages
Buy at Amazon


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