Yesterday's post was a little on the long side, so I'll keep things short today. I'm in the middle of John Boyne's This House is Haunted, a ghost story and Victorian pastiche all wrapped into one and I must say I am enjoying it immensely. I started reading Boyne's The Absolutist, maybe last year? It was set aside for some reason or other--likely I was reading too many WWI books and I find these days if I read too much on one topic (particularly war stories) I tend to get reader's fatigue (is there such a thing?) and have to pick up lighter fare in between books. But John Boyne is really good, isn't he? I mean, really good. At least he does 'Victorian' exceptionally well. I feel like snapping up all his books now and having a really good binge, but I will try show a little self-restraint after I've just brought home a pile of new books! In any case must dig out my copy of The Absolutist once again.
But first no need to rush This House is Haunted, though I might not be able to help myself. I find myself reaching for it quite often. One of the blurbs on the back of the book says "a lesson in classic storytelling" and indeed he is a very good storyteller. I can forgive almost anything if an author knows how to tell a good story, but there is nothing here that needs to be forgiven. So far I am finding it all pitch perfect.
The story is narrated by twenty-one year old Eliza Caine who is left 'orphaned' after the death of her beloved father. She has a most engaging voice and manner. Orphaned is perhaps not the best word since she is actually in her majority, but after her father's death she discovers she is left with nothing. Her house is not actually her house and there is no money. She has a job teaching small children in London, but an advertisement in a London weekly catches her notice. A family in Norfolk is looking for a governess. Perhaps there is too much sad history where she is and a complete change of pace is in order?
Gaudlin Hall is not at all what it seems. She should have been tipped off right from the start when the former governess passes her in the train station just as she is arriving. So hurried to get away she only looks sadly at Eliza but doesn't stop. It doesn't bode well for Eliza who from her very first day is dropped into a confusing situation that no one seems to have any desire to correct or explain.
My teaser is from early in the story when Eliza arrives at Gaudlin hall after a mysterious carriage ride with the house's caretaker, an odd man who is none too forthcoming (but then no one seems to be so) about the family's situation. Her charges are two young children, a brother and sister. Eliza is dropped off at the front door and expects to meet her new family, the parents of her young charges, but--
"A moment later, the door opened and I turned, expecting at last to come face to face with my new employer, whoever he or she might be."
"It was not a man or a woman standing there, however, but a little girl. She was about twelve years old, I thought, older than my small girls, and very pale and pretty. Her hair was curled into ringlets that hung down to her shoulders and perhaps a little further. She was dressed in a white nightdress, fastened at the neck and hanging to her ankles, and as she stood there, the candles in the hallway illuminating her from behind, she took on a spectral appearance that rather frightened me."
The mystery surrounding these children and their lack of any apparent family sets the tone. You know there is something not quite right and are left imaginging why. Eliza seems to be the only person (save the reader, of course, and we might find out the why long before Eliza) who doesn't know what's going on, and no one seems willing to let her in on the secret. I think that will be half the 'fun' of reading this story--that and the atmosphere with which the story simply oozes. Oh, and I'll try not to think of those cold hands that seemed to grasp Eliza's ankles when she got into bed on that first night . . .
How's your RIP reading going?