Published: October 2013 Other Press
Source: checked out from my local library
This House Is Haunted is a striking homage to the classic nineteenth-century ghost story. Set in Norfolk in 1867, Eliza Caine responds to an ad for a governess position at Gaudlin Hall. When she arrives at the hall, shaken by an unsettling disturbance that occurred during her travels, she is greeted by the two children now in her care, Isabella and Eustace. There is no adult present to represent her mysterious employer, and the children offer no explanation. Later that night in her room, another terrifying experience further reinforces the sense that something is very wrong. From the moment Eliza rises the following morning, her every step seems dogged by a malign presence that lives within Gaudlin’s walls. Eliza realizes that if she and the children are to survive its violent attentions, she must first uncover the hall’s long-buried secrets and confront the demons of its past
I know it’s weird to read a haunted house story in December and I could have added it to my “save for later” folder on my library account. But I’ve read so many great books this year and I want to make sure I end the year the same way. I felt certain I could count on Boyne to help me do that. He kicked it off with a bang and set the tone:
“London, 1867 - I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father”When her already sickly father and Eliza attend a reading by Dickens on a rainy day, her father takes a rapid turn for the worse and shortly thereafter dies, leaving Eliza an orphan who soon realizes that the place she has always called home isn’t actually owned by her father, effectively leaving her homeless. How very Dickensian! Boyne even throws in some social commentary on prison conditions, religion, and the place of women in society to further parallel Dickens’ writing (although, let’s be honest, Dickens never really worried himself over the inequalities that women faced). Dickens isn’t the only author Boyne calls to mind: there are hints of Wilkie Collins, the Bronte sisters (orphaned girl forced to become a governess), and especially Henry James (think The Turn of the Screw). There’s even a paragraph about Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Boyne went so deep into trying to make this a Gothic mystery that the language often felt stilted (there were a lot of phrases like “answers there came none”) and the descriptions sometimes went on over long, as writers of that time tended to do. Unfortunately, that’s not the extent of my issue with this book. Boyne really ratchets up the violence toward the end of the book, culminating with an actual battle scene that feels more in line with the violence level of a modern thriller than a Gothic one. And where Eliza had been a protected, contented, not over intellectual young woman when the book began, later I often found it hard to believe she was only twenty-one.
Don’t get me wrong – I raced through this book. Even though much of what happens is straight out of the Gothic horror writing textbook, it’s still Boyne. There’s still some humor: “It had been hanging on that wall for so long that perhaps I never really notice it any more, in the way that one often ignores familiar things, like seat cushions or loved ones.” And there are plenty of secrets to be revealed and an ending that you might see coming but I sure didn’t. So should you read it? Sure. It’s not Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger but it’s still a fun read, especially if you read it at near Halloween.