This novel came to me at the perfect time¹–sick in bed, unable to do much, and in need of some quality entertainment. Although, most of my time recently has been spent napping, I was able to squeeze in some reading time and a wee bit to write this review.²
This House is Haunted is a takeoff on 19th century Gothic tales (think The Turn of the Screw and Jane Eyre). Eliza Caine is a 21-year-old school teacher who lives with her ailing father. In the first line of the book, she declares: I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father. For you see, her father insists on going out one night to see the fine author read one of his stories. The weather is too much for him and Eliza is finally left without parents (her mother died some ten years or so prior).
Without enough money or anything latching her to her hometown of London, Eliza answers an ad for a governess. There is no interview or reference-checking on the part of the family placing the ad; she is outright hired. When Eliza turns up in Norfolk, a nasty accident almost befalls her and when she arrives at the home of her new charges, she is not met by the parents but only by the children–the young Eustace, aged 8, and his older sister, Isabella, who speaks like a tiny, creepy adult.
Many accidents befall Eliza Caine, along with spooky moments of phantom hands yanking her out of bed or trying to choke her. She finds out that her predecessors also had unpleasant tenures as governess.
Besides the excellent exercise on Boyne’s part to write a well-conceived and engrossing tale of 19th century ghosts and intrigue, the real pleasure came from the mystery surrounding all of the strange events. With the unsettling Isabella and the unpleasantries stalking Eliza Caine at every turn, I couldn’ t put the book down. Of course, there is a tragic history behind Gaudlin Hall–the half-derelict home which the children live in–but only portions are extricated at times and it is up to Eliza to pull out as much as possible and piece it all together.
Fans of Gothic novels will definitely enjoy This House is Haunted. Its appeal, however, stretches further than to just those who are looking for an entertaining Gothic homage. It stands alone even with its apparent influence and I dare you to not be caught up in its captivating plot and characters. One shouldn’t merely dismiss it as a shadow of an earlier genre, but an alluring work of fiction that encompasses what we most look for in a novel.
¹ I originally heard of this book through NPR’s Book Concierge, which I highly recommend.
² Excuses, excuses, I know, but many apologies for a short and light review this time round.