“I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father.”
If this first line intrigues you, you are not alone.
This is the declaration John Boyne uses to open his gothic Victorian ghost story, This House Is Haunted, and while it might be the first, it certainly isn’t the last nod to Mr. Dickens in this story. A few chapters in we even discover an office clerk named Cratchett!
I’m a bit of a sucker for ghostly Victorian tales but had previously only read one other of John Boyne’s books, The Boy In The Stripped Pajamas so I was curious as to what this book had to offer. From the captivating and macabre first line the scene is set, the year is 1867, let the story begin.
Amidst the dense London fog Eliza Caine looses her only surviving parent thanks to Charles Dickens. Now alone in the world and a mere schoolteacher she struggles to pay the rent.
Answering a peculiar advertisement requesting the services of a governess, Eliza goes in search of a new life away from the city and the only home she has ever known.
Disembarking at a Norfolk station on a chilly night Eliza gets the creeping feeling that something is amiss when an invisible pair of hands try to push her into the path of an oncoming train, but it’s too late to turn back now. An unsettling journey to Gaudlin Hall, her new home, does little to appease her fears. On arriving at the imposing country pile Eliza finds no adults there to receive her; no servants, no parents and no sign of her mysterious employer.
Instead she is welcomed by her two young charges, Isabella and Eustace Westerly who appear to be alone in the house. The children offer no explanation as to the strange circumstances and do not answer any of Eliza’s questions. The new governess, the sixth in less than a year, is shown to her room and bid goodnight. However it soon becomes apparent that the children, and now Eliza, may not be alone in the house after all.
As Eliza Caine goes about her duties taking care of the Westerly children she feels stalked by a hostile presence intent on causing her harm. She knows that if she is to succeed where past governesses have failed she must uncover Gaudlin’s past and dig up its long buried secrets. This she must do if she is to save the children, and herself.
Can this Victorian heroine rid Gaudlin of its ghost?
This book contains everything that a true gothic ghost story should. Bad weather, bumpy carriage rides, unhelpful villagers, a haunted Hall, odd children, hidden secrets and murder. Eliza Caine is the perfect protagonist providing a strong and feisty first person narrative in a time when young women were thought better to be seen and not heard. The suspense builds with every chapter in the run up to the final page, which like every good ghost story contains a twist at the end.
Not so terribly scary as to keep you awake at night but certainly spooky and atmospheric enough to keep you turning the page.
If you read and enjoyed Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black you’ll love this creepy tale.
Bookworm Business: Have you read This House Is Haunted? What did you make of it? Have you read anything of John Boyne’s before? Will you be giving this book a try?