This House is Haunted was read just around the Halloween time – I thought it would be a nice ghost story to help set the mood. I’ve only read one other John Boyne novel and it was the splendid audiobook and novel, The Absolutist. This gothic ghost tale is vastly different from The Absolutist. Jackie also recently read a John Boyne title, another very different read as well from both The Absolutist and This House is Haunted. (She read The House of Special Purpose.)
A few chapters into This House is Haunted and I already began to appreciate the breadth in which Boyne writes. This novel is very well written in the female voice and with considerable Dickensian flair. Again, it is also considerably different than his other recent novels in voice and context.
It is 1867, and Eliza Caine ‘s father dies rather suddenly and tragically following their night out at a reading given by Charles Dickens. Reeling from despair and the realization she is now utterly alone she makes the quick and snap decision to accept the position of governess at Gaudlin Hall. While the ad is very sparsely written and mysteriously signed only using the surname Bennett, she still accepts.
Following a few strange and unsettling events during her travels to Gaudlin Hall, Eliza arrives to find her two charges appear to be living on their own. The mysterious Bennett turns out to be the former governess, a person that seem to have fled in a hurry. She is also actually the frenzied person Eliza accidently bumps into at the train station in Norfolk.
Perplexed by the lack of information or guardianship available in Gaudlin Hall, Eliza must rely on the family lawyer, Mr. Raisin. However, Mr. Raisin is none too forthcoming with information either. Following even more harrowing experiences and near brushes with death, Eliza demands to understand what the true situation is at Gaudlin. Finally, she discovers there were four other governesses before her and only Miss Bennett has escaped with her life.
Although every instinct is telling Eliza to turn and flee this place, she cannot help but stay and continue to care for her two charges, Isabella and Eustace. While Isabella is a head-strong girl, Eliza’s love and tenderness cannot be denied for Eustace. Eliza and Mr. Raisin also have those certain feelings for each other simmering under the surface. 😉
There is an evil and dark presence inside the walls of Gaudlin, but also there seems to be one that acts as a protector to Eliza in some way. Narrowly missing her demise too many more times to count, Eliza fully uncovers the story behind this evil presence and its hold on Gaudlin Hall. It is a tragic and unsettling tale and is one that only cements Eliza’s determination to remain and care for the two children. It ends in a fierce battle between good and evil, the true identity of the “good spirit” and an epic evening that puts Isabella, Eustace, Mr. Raisin and Eliza in great peril. I cannot give anything away as it would only ruin the ending!
This House is Haunted was a very good read, it was a quick one and also one where I truly appreciated and respected the Dickensian tone in which this tale is told. It’s a 3.5 star read: very good.