I did find this book quite an enjoyable, and it must be admitted a fast paced read, and it obviously falls into those books inspired by ‘The Turn of the Screw’. Eliza Caine takes on a new post after her father dies, to become the governess at Gaudlin Hall. Eliza soon realises after she feels a pair of hands trying to push her under a train and that there is no one there, that something odd is happening. As Eliza arrives at Gaudlin Hall she soon finds that there are mysteries, and things that she isn’t being told.
As things progress, Eliza soon finds that although she enjoys the company of the two children in her ward, she herself seems to be in danger from supernatural forces. As an enjoyable ghost story then this is okay, but it also is set in 1867 and thus would also fall into the historical novel category, which is when things start to unravel. There is no author’s note saying that things have been altered for the sake of storytelling, and so we find no excuse for certain facts being completely erroneous.
When Charles Dickens gives one of his public readings in this book, and starts one particular story that will soon be published, this is quite erroneous. The story started here is ‘The Signalman’ which was published in All The Year Round as the Christmas special of 1866, which is one of the tales that make up Mugby Junction. It is hardly a new story that will be published, when it was published the year before. The hanging that is mentioned in this book would probably have been public, as it was general until 1898 when Parliament passed an act making them within prison walls. The hanging would have taken place at Norwich Castle, and not prison as is stated in this book, because it wasn’t there at the time, indeed it was something like twenty years later that it was completed.
So if you are looking for an enjoyable ghost story that will pass a few hours in entertainment, that is quite good, then you should enjoy this. If you expect more from your story when it is set in a particular place and time, and expect details to be correct, then you will be disappointed.
I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley.
I enjoyed “This House is Haunted” but can’t pretend that it had me on the edge of my seat. To write an original and spine–chilling ghost story must be every bit as much of a challenge as to write a good erotic novel. In both the pitfalls are gaping.
To base the story on a governess and two children and to place the action in the midst of the nineteenth century points to no lack of bravery on the part of John Boyne. Comparison with James’ “The Turn of The Screw” in particular, not to mention “Jane Eyre” is inevitable. And as if that weren’t enough the story starts with the dramatic “I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father.” Dickens himself was no fool when it came to ghost stories, though perhaps wisely he stuck to the short story form. Anyway, three major novelists invoked set the crossbar high.
On top of all this clichés and stereotypes beckon at every turn. The desolate, crumbling manor house, the fog, the storms, the brooding, suspicious locals, the sullen retainers are all called upon to leave us in no doubt as to what manner of tale we have here. Eliza Caine is a not unpromising heroine, though again out of the mould. At times I find her maddeningly inconsistent – at one moment understandably on the brink of nervous collapse and then within no time full of courage and obdurate resolution. Such a character is, perhaps, necessary to carry the plot, which I find sadly predictable. A few unexpected twists and red herrings would not go amiss and it is a pity that the conclusion to the final chapter is so transparently obvious.
There is a sense in which, I suppose, many of us turn to fiction of this nature to find precisely these ingredients – and fair enough, but I’d have liked to have felt a little more quickening of the pulse and a few more surprises.
With the intriguing opening sentence: "I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father" the reader learns how Eliza Caine, a young schoolteacher, struggles to cope with the loss of her father when he succumbs to a fever after an unwise trip in bad weather to see the famous author, Charles Dickens, speak at a venue in London. Eliza, as she tells us in her first-person narrative, is not a beauty; in fact she is very plain and, as such, she feels that marriage is unlikely to be an option that is available to her. Having lost not just her only surviving relative, Eliza is also suffering from the loss of her father's income and it is soon apparent to her that, in order to survive, Eliza will have to rely on her own resources. Therefore, when she sees an advertisement for the post of governess, required to start work immediately at Gaudlin Hall, in Norfolk, Eliza hastily decides to leave her London life behind and make a fresh start and, hopefully, a new life for herself.
Arriving in Norfolk, after a rather frightening incident at the train station, where she almost falls in front of an approaching train, Eliza is surprised when she arrives at Gaudlin Hall and finds two children: twelve-year-old Isabella Westerley, and her brother, eight-year-old Eustace, waiting for her in what appears to be an empty house. Deciding to investigate this unusual situation the next day, Eliza retires to her room looking forward to a good night's sleep, but as she stretches out her tired, aching body in the huge bed, something very strange and alarming happens which she can only explain to herself as the consequence of her being overwrought and overtired. However, that night's disturbance is just the start of a whole series of weird and frightening experiences that cannot be easily explained away, and it gradually becomes clear to Eliza that there is a malign presence in the house. As Eliza pieces together information from the Westerley family's solicitor, Mr Raisin, the vicar, Reverend Deacons and Doctor Toxley and his wife, Madge, she realises that she will need to gather all her strength and powers of reasoning to protect herself and her charges from the sinister and evil presence at Gaudlin Hall.
This novel which has a certain gothic feel to it - think paler shades of Charlotte Bronte/Henry James/Charles Dickens - makes for an unsettling, absorbing and entertaining read. Eliza is a very sympathetic character and it is difficult not to make comparisons between her and Jane Eyre - very plain in appearance, outwardly sensible, but with a passionate heart burning beneath; and the other characters - some of which are unashamedly Dickensian - are colourfully portrayed, from Mr Raisin's clerk, Mr Cratchett (yes, really) to the elusive Mrs Livermore, and the gruesome stableman, Heckling. The author, John Boyne, is rather successful with the narration of his story in the voice of a young, unmarried Victorian woman, and although there were a few inaccuracies (and the author's editor should have noticed that in the 1860s women would normally have worn shawls for additional warmth, not cardigans) I found it was easy to become immersed in this atmospheric and creepy tale of the supernatural. I started reading this when I arrived home from work and just carried on until I had turned the last page - it's eerie enough to unsettle you, but not so terrifyingly sinister that it will keep you awake at night too frightened to turn off the light!
I thought this was the only book I'd read by John Boyne until I realized that he's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas author. That was a great read; sadly, this doesn't hit the same high mark.
From the start, there was a feeling of familiarity with both the storyline and characters. New governess, haunted house, swirling mists, whispering locals, a dead mother, churlish servants and weird children. Unfortunately, whilst a few scenes were strong in atmosphere, there was little new in the tale or telling and it felt very contrived. As a pastiche it pays homage to a number of authors and styles and there may be some passing interest in making those literary connections. But there was nothing in the well written narrative to make this exceptional or interesting. I felt little in the way of suspense and was waiting for something dramatic or unexpected to happen. It just felt comfortable and predictable and rather disappointing.
I feel a bit mean being critical because I don't underestimate the amount of research and effort required to produce a well written tale. But other authors have done the same kind of story so much better. It's OK, but not great.
My thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for a review copy.
In a lonely, crumbling house in Norfolk live two children. Eliza Caine arrives as their new governess and discovers that all is not what it seems. Where are the parents? Why will the villagers not talk about it?
This is a well written, middle of the road ghost story. All the usual criteria for a ghost story are there - set in Victorian times, an isolated house, two children, mysterious circumstances, villagers who won't talk........all the makings of a classic ghost story are there. Unfortunately, however, the author failed to add a magic ingredient to make this their own. As I read through the book I was being constantly reminded of previous stories that I had read, which was fine to a point. However, to lift this book away from just seeming to be a copycat cliche the author had to introduce something else; something to make the book different. I didn't feel that this ever arrived. This took away some of the suspense element and the story became a little predictable. It is possible that I have read too many ghost stories and a reader with less ghost stories under their belt may get more involved with the suspense.
The characters in this book were well written though, as you would expect from my comments above, slightly cliched. Eliza Caine was, as you would expect, a young woman alone in the world and not terribly good looking - a smattering of Jane Eyre. The villagers behave most oddly towards her & are reluctant to talk. The children are a bit odd and seem to talk to people who aren't there. Though, under the circumstances I was surprised the children were not a great deal stranger and less well behaved! They are all well written and I did get a grasp of who they were and a bit about their personalities.
This is a well written, average, ghost story with nothing special to make it stand out from similar stories. There certainly isn't a wow factor and it wasn't a book that I couldn't put down.
on 7 September 2015
A ghost story in the classic mould by John Boyne, probably best known for 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'. The set-up is very much like 'The Turn of the Screw', in that a young woman of no particular family finds a post as a governess in a quiet country house, where her two young charges are orphans who behave rather strangely. With such a familiar setting, the ensuing plot and/or the writing need to be very good indeed for the novel to work, however, and this wasn't really up to the mark.
The first problem is that London and Norfolk in 1867 aren't brought to life at all. With a genre novel, the reader wouldn't expect to be swamped with period detail, but a few deft touches would have made all the difference. It was difficult to picture Norfolk's Gaudlin Hall, for example, the Caine home in London, or any of the characters. Where he does mention something, such as a dandy horse, it seems flung in as a bit of Victoriana rather than rooting the characters in their time. The language is also rather stilted and odd. While he avoids obviously modern slang, the turn of phrase has more in common with laboured current speech than 19th Century vernacular of any description. Presumably Boyne made a deliberate decision to keep the language accessible to all, and while this has something to recommend it, it comes here at the expense of atmosphere.
Then there is the pace, which is irregular. There's a slow build up, which is fine per se, but there are more implausibilities in Eliza's continuing ignorance than there are in an average soap opera. Would an independent woman who had been a schoolteacher accept endless evasions from people who clearly know that terrible things have happened in the house in which she's staying? Then, about halfway through, and from a character who should and surely would have told her sooner, she learns everything, and from that point on all the tension dissipates. Any vaguely alert reader will have worked out who or what is tormenting and protecting her. In fact, it was so obvious that I felt there had to be an unforeseen twist in the tale towards the very end, but instead there was a melodramatic and rather ludicrous scene that even on a big screen with CGI would be far fetched. Much of the second half of the book to that point involves Eliza waiting for random malevolent acts from the fury that is hellbent on destroying her. Mysterious are the ways of ghosts, I suppose, but why wait? There's no date significance or extra element expected.
Finally, in place of the nuanced narrative of 'The Turn of the Screw', and despite a few red herrings involving an object of Eliza's fancy, there are no real ambiguities at all. There is, as in so many ghost stories, a moral in the tale, but even this feels too up-to-date, involving child abuse of girls by the men in their lives. It was far from unknown in the 19th Century, but the age of consent in England was twelve and women and children were not the legal equals of men, so it was not the public spectre that it is today. Paedophilia undoubtedly has serious consequences - did we ever think otherwise? - but the depiction of a (foreign) child abuse victim as a psychotic murderer who becomes a vengeful ghost is perhaps not the most constructive way of looking at it. In all, while this is a reasonable read, the characters were unconvincing and the horrors rather dull.
A traditional Victorian ghost story that's just a little bit predictable and cliched for my own personal tastes. In part a homage to James Joyce's 'Turn of the Screw'; young governess, Eliza Caine, in an old house caring for two children in the mid 19th century. The central theme of a young, well bought-up lady all alone in the world and facing isolation, hostility and suspicion immediately put me in mind of the 'Bronte' sisters.
John Boyne does a decent job. He has a good stab at creating a dark, gloomy Victorian ghost story but 'This House is Haunted' feels more like a re-telling of what has gone before than a fresh idea written to spook and unsettle.
Eliza Caine isn't a bad heroine but she's entirely as you'd expect her to be and written to formula. Don't expect any surprises from Eliza but do expect the often used concept of female insanity, mental frailty, to raise its head as the story progresses.
I really can't say much more about the novel. It's a typical haunted house story; a frightened, though resilient, young woman responsible for the care of a couple of children faces opposition and isolation amid a host of unexplained, supernatural, events. There is a mystery running behind the scenes that's slowly uncovered but it's predictable especially for those, like me, who read a lot of supernatural fiction.
Not bad. Not brilliant. No real surprises but a decently dark atmosphere and a book I'd recommend to those who like their ghost stories on the light side and written to a traditional formula.
Eliza Caine is a young woman, who lives in London with her father. He works in a museum and she teaches in a school for girls; their lives uneventful but happy. However, when her father dies suddenly, Eliza decides on impulse to answer a newspaper advertisement for a governess in Norfolk. To her surprise, she is offered the post with what seems great haste and, almost before she has time to consider, she is on a train and leaving her old life behind. However, on arrival at the fog shrouded station, unseen hands attempt to push her underneath a train...
This is not a very original tale, but it is well written and draws you in. There are lots of references to other authors and novels; from the clerk named after Scrooge’s own, who claims never to have read Dickens, to the two withdrawn and slightly odd children, Isabella and Eustace, who remind you immediately of “The Turn of the Screw,” and they are fun to spot. There is everything you could want from a ghost story – the taciturn carriage driver, locals who turn quiet when Eliza mentions she is the new governess at Gaudlin Hall, a whole host of family secrets and, of course, a malevolent presence. However, Eliza is a young lady who takes her responsibilities seriously and she does not intend to be driven away. Ideal for those who like their ghost stories creepy, rather than frightening, but with excellent characters and a good story. Lastly, I received a copy of this book from the publishers, via NetGalley, for review.
This book looked like a great premise; a Victorian gothic ghost story. Set in 1867, Eliza Caine finds her life circumstances change drastically and suddenly, and she decides to go for a complete change in her life with a post as a governess. Finding herself in Norfolk after being accepted for the post, she is greeted by surprise and silence in the village, and strange and mysterious circumstances in the house where she is to look after two young children. Where are the childrens' parents? And why did the last governess leave so suddenly?
This is written in the first person narrative, which gives a real immediacy to the story, and allows us to view the action as it unfolds from the perspective solely of Eliza, which is great. I found her to be a somewhat naïve character at first, but she soon finds herself with a strength that she did not know she possessed, as she struggles to find her place in a changed world where things are not always as they appear.
This is a great story; while there is not a great ramp-up of tension, so it cannot really be classed a horror story, the story is full of well-paced and well-presented surprises, and it offers a totally engaging and engrossing Victorian gothic tale. Totally enjoyable; totally recommended.
"I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father". Who can fail to be intrigued by this opening line? Despite having all the components of a book that I wouldn't have expected to like - gothic, Victorian, ghosts - I absolutely loved this story. In it, Eliza Caine, having lost her beloved father, moves from London to Norfolk to take up a role as governess to two children at Gaudlin Hall. But nothing is as it should be and Eliza becomes more and more convinced of a malevolent force at work.
Maybe it's the quality of John Boyne's writing (Crippen is one of my favourite books and who can forget the wonderful The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) but he managed to write a ghost book that rang true to me which not many do. Eliza herself tells the story and I liked her voice very much. She is a level-headed narrator who tells a completely plausible story.
I raced through this book and couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. And as well as the great opening lines, the book ends with a sinister, but not completely unexpected, turn of events. I enjoyed it all immensely.
Thank you to the publishers and Netgalley for providing a copy for review.