Take a pinch of Jane Eyre, a snippet of Dickens, stir together with a spoonful of Wilkie Collins and mix in a whole load of classic gothic gloom and you’ll have an idea of just how good John Boyne is at expressing the darker side of Victorian life.
When Eliza Caine arrives in Norfolk in the winter of 1867 she is a twenty one year old orphan; her father having recently died. Impecunious circumstances force Eliza into making the decision to relocate from London to the rather bleak environment of Gaudlin Hall where she is to be governess to Isabel and Eustace. Her arrival at the hall is fraught with danger and on meeting the children she is frighteningly aware that there are no other adults present and yet the children clearly expect her arrival. And there is no sign of her mysterious employer, the enigmatic H Bennet. From the beginning of the story , it is clear that this is a place of momentous secrets. The malevolent presence which lingers in the shadows, and which enfolds itself around Gaudlin Hall creates a realistic atmosphere of fear and as the tension racks up, you feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
There is no doubt, that John Boyne is a classic storyteller. His unique ability to get right into the heart and soul of his characters is evident in the way he portrays Eliza who could so easily have become a caricature of Victorian maidenly distress, but instead he makes her into a classic unstable narrator, in whose company you wonder just what’s going on, not just inside her head, but also in the way she comports herself. The gothic gloom of the rest of the story is classic horror with a supernatural plot, an isolated and shadowy manor house and whole bucket load of secrets, all these components help to turn This House is Haunted into a rather special spooky story.
My thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for my copy