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A young reporter named Tomasso publishes a convincing photo of an Italian medium, Alexandra Poverelli, levitating a table, and it causes such a stir that the scientist/psychiatrist Professor Camillo Lombardi comes all the way to Naples to investigate the claim. To his astonishment, she proves she can do far more than simply levitate tables.
Result? She and the young reporter, Tomasso, who has fallen in love with her, are taken on a tour, first of Italy and then of the capitals of Europe, by the wealthy Professor Lombardi. Many are convinced by her. Others are either sceptical or fanatically against her – including the representative of an English society which investigates mediums, a repulsive character bent on engineering Alexandra's downfall.
The novel is based on the life of Eusapia Palladino, who is dismissed in Wikipedia as a fraud (but then so is homeopathy!). However, in this story her powers are certainly genuine. That she can and does accomplish seemingly supernatural feats is not in doubt. The only question is how. Is she really in communication with the dead, or is there some other quite different explanation?
An interesting point is that this (the whole "medium" thing) is often seen and presented – especially in its late 19th-century context – as part of the supposed war between science and religion. In fact the Church is quite as much her enemy as the scientific establishment. More so. Many scientists did – and do – have an open mind (and so they should, for that after all is the scientific method), her sponsor, Professor Camillo Lombardi, being such a one, whereas no one from the Church (as represented in this novel, at least) showed any sign of an open mind.
It is an enthralling story, and it was a brilliant decision to use young Tomasso as the narrator, to watch it all unfold through his eyes, the eyes of one who loved the much-abused but still tempestuous Alexandra for who she was and not what she could do.