Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Book Review: This House is Haunted

This House is Haunted
Author: John Boyne
Publication: October 8, 2013 by Other Press


Written in Dickensian prose, This House Is Haunted is a striking homage to the classic nineteenth-century ghost story. Set in Norfolk in 1867, Eliza Caine responds to an ad for a governess position at Gaudlin Hall. When she arrives at the hall, shaken by an unsettling disturbance that occurred during her travels, she is greeted by the two children now in her care, Isabella and Eustace. There is no adult present to represent her mysterious employer, and the children offer no explanation. Later that night in her room, another terrifying experience further reinforces the sense that something is very wrong.
From the moment Eliza rises the following morning, her every step seems dogged by a malign presence that lives within Gaudlin’s walls. Eliza realizes that if she and the children are to survive its violent attentions, she must first uncover the hall’s long-buried secrets and confront the demons of its past. Clever, captivating, and witty, This House Is Haunted is pure entertainment with a catch.


Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

I fell in love with this book in the first 2 chapters. I loved the writing style- harkening back to Dickens and the classic gothic ghost story. I loved that we got to meet Dickens, that Boyne took the reader to a time and place where he was real, alive, and influential.

Then Eliza's journey as governess at Gaudlin Hall began and my affections began to wane. I have always loved a good scary story. I was really hoping (especially after the disappointment of reading Bellman & Black) to find a good creepy ghost tale to set the mood for the Halloween season. This one was definitely a ghost story- haunted old house, dreary English setting, angry spectres, unexplained deaths of young women, creepy children in starched and formal clothing.

Some other readers and reviewers have suggested that the author intended his story to be a tongue-in-cheek love letter to the greats of the genre. I am not so convinced. If that were the case, then I would have expected the motifs to be more over-the-top, making me chuckle a little here and there. Instead, I felt more like I was reading a ghost story in which the writer is telling me 'this is scary' and 'you should be spooked now'.

I can see how this story might work really well as a film- things that happen might be more scary if I were watching them happen rather than being told about them. Maybe it's because whenever the "scary" ghost stuff happened, it was always sudden and abrupt violence rather than the slow, spine-tingling torment that has you holding your breath which might be more effective with the written word.

I will admit that there was a point where I decided to give up on this book. I was bored. Then guilt took over and I decided to give it one more chance to hook me. It redeemed itself. I finished the second half of the book in a single sitting. At no point was I shocked or scared, but I was definitely curious enough that I lost myself in the story and needed to know how it would end.

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