“I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father...”
You have to love a good ghost story. And as ghost stories go, this definitely is a good one. It has all the elements a scary story needs to make it get under your skin and creep you out; an isolated heroine, an almost deserted house, starting to fall apart, hidden rooms and dark secrets.
After her father dies, Eliza is alone in the world. She leaves the familiar surroundings of London and a safe job for Norfolk and the position of governess to a family and children she knows nothing about. Even in her wildest fantasies she couldn’t have come up with the scenario that meets her when she arrives at her destination. The only people she finds in the stately manor are two young children. There appear to be no adults in the house at all and nobody to let her know what exactly is expected of her.
When she visits the local town the next day people are nice to her until they discover she is the new governess at Gaudlin Hall. The moment she mentions the place or questions people about the whereabouts of the children’s parents they seem to withdraw and find excuses to stop talking with her.
It takes some time for Eliza to find out exactly what happened to the parents and to her predecessors and all the while strange things are happening to her; the hands trying to push her in front of a train when she first arrived, a violent wind trying to prevent her from entering the house, freezing water suddenly turning boiling hot and scarring her hands… It is hard for Eliza not to imagine that she is under attack. But, under attack from whom and why?
By the time Eliza has figured out exactly what (or who) she is up against she also finds herself without allies. If anybody is going to resolve this situation it will have to be her, on her own. But then again, is she really as alone as she thinks?
Like I said, this is a great ghost story written in an engaging way. The ghostliness of the story is established in the first few pages and only gets creepier as the narrative unfolds. I liked that Eliza was a strong character. Yes, she was restrained by the standards of the time she lived in, but she didn’t allow those standards to stop her from what she had to do, even if her independence and determination raised a few critical eyebrows. I also enjoyed the few references that were made to things hopefully getting better, freer for women in the future.
And I’m in awe of John Boyne. It seems that no matter what subject or period he decides to tackle he manages to deliver an engrossing tale with characters you can identify with even if they do live at a time long before ours. I guess John Boyne is living proof that the gift of the gab is still alive and kicking. I can only hope that he’ll continue to share that gift with us, his readers, for a long, long time.