Top positive review
43 people found this helpful
An Atmospheric and Creepy Tale of the Supernatural
on 24 April 2013
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!