I love a good gothic ghost story and John Boyne mostly delivers in this tale of foreboding doom.
Eliza Caine is living a simple life as a school teacher in London. Her mother lost during the birth (and subsequent death) of her little sister, Eliza has known nothing but her father’s love so it comes as a great shock when he succumbs to sudden illness. Unable to stay where she has put down roots, she accepts a position as a governess in the countryside in Norfolk.
But almost immediately, things start to occur that make Eliza think of reconsidering the choice. Even the trip to Gaudlin Hall is rife with trouble when she is nearly pushed in front of a train by an unseen presence. Her arrival at the stately but crumbling old manor home has her unable to meet or even locate the parents of the charges she is to care for, and the children themselves are bright but seemingly unusual.
As the next few days and even weeks go by, Eliza not only is still never introduced to Isabella and Eustace’s parents but no one on the property or even in the nearby town wants to discuss them. The family lawyer does his best to evade her queries and the housekeeper as well as the carriage driver keep to themselves and outright avoid bumping into her.
But some of the townsfolk eventually begin to open up and she learns of some of the depressing history of the home, including the fact that she is sixth in a line of governesses just in the last year—since an apparent tragedy struck the family. Even more alarming is that four of the five women hired have died mysteriously.
Eliza’s stay continues to be fraught with terrifying instances of violence, to the point that she knows for a fact that there is a presence in the house, and what’s worse is that there may actually be two.
I’ve had this novel sitting on my TBR pile for quite a while, and thought it was time to get to it! Set in the time of Charles Dickens, it brought everything you’d expect from a gothic tale of ghosts and mystery—from dense fog, strange children, and a creepy old mansion to a young woman trying to escape the wrath of a vengeful spirit.
That said, it did take an inordinate amount of time for the story to get going. I love a slow build up but I was halfway through before anything remotely scary happened. And scary is perhaps not the proper word, in fact. Nothing here was terribly frightening but I did still enjoy the well-written story. It had obvious shades of The Turn of the Screw and Jane Eyre, that much was blatant yet welcome.
All in all it was still able to purvey a lingering sense of dread throughout, and though I did guess where the ending was headed I still enjoyed the ride.
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