Book Review: This House is Haunted

17621098This 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.

Audiobook Review: The Absolutist

absolutist If you look at the bottom of this cover, you’ll see it states, rather simply, “Read by Michael Maloney”. No, my friends, this audiobook is not just “read” by Michael Maloney, it is LIVED by Michael Maloney. Maloney reads it with such gusto, enthusiasm, tenderness, exquiteness that it comes as absolutely no surprise to hear The Absolutist won an Earphones Award by AudioFile for Exceptional Audio Performance. Absolutely. Absolutely exceptional. Listening to The Absolutist left me many times with either tears streaming down my face, heart aching, (just aching) or grinning like a fool cheshire cat.

Included in the description at the back of the audiobook is the following statement, “The Absolutist is a masterful tale of passion, jealousy, heroism, and betrayal set in one of the most gruesome trenches of France during World War I. This novel will keep listeners on the edge of their seats until its most extraordinary and unexpected conclusion, and it will stay with them long after they’ve finished.”

Oh how true, yes, it will stay with me long after, as it was a deeply affecting story.

We begin the story with a now 21-year-old Tristan Sadler as he boards a train to Norwich to return a packet of letters to the sister of Will Bancroft. Will is a man Tristan trained with in Aldershot and fought with in France. However, the packet of letters is not the sole reason for going to Norwich to meet Marian, for Tristan plans on finally relieving himself of the tale of his and Will’s relationship and what exactly happened over in France when Will was killed. Tristan feels he has worked up enough courage to divulge the truth and cleanse his soul.

The story then begins to alternate from the time Tristan first meets Will in Aldershot, back to Norwich where he sits with Marian and tells his story. His story begins with some of the events that lead him to enlist and finally up to that incredibly tragic time in France when Will is killed. We never learn of how Will is killed, just that he never returned from France.  The reader does not find out until the very end, and it happens in a pulse-pounding, highly anxious moment. Actually, of the 20 men Tristan trained with, only 2 survive. Tristan and the one chap that went mad and had to be sent home. It is during these moments when Tristan is sharing details of their training in Aldershot and later in France that you get a fantastic dose of Maloney’s narration and how it simply shines. Gleams? It’s just brilliant whatever the word is that you wish to describe it. Their training sergeant is a man named Clayton. Sgt. Clayton leaps out of the book in all his glory and meanness under Maloney’s brilliant narration. It’s just awesome!

Anyway, the story leading up to Tristan’s training and his developing friendship with Will is a heartbreaking one, for certain. His former relationship with his father and family is forever altered by one quick and small event, and when Tristan relates the farewell moments between him and his father, your heart will be crushed.  Just as a side note here, this novel has been listed in the “If You Love Downton Abbey” lists and while I do adore Downton Abbey (wasn’t that season finale horribly heartbreaking?! Why?!) I’m not a great fan of following these lists or the generation/creation of these, but I must confide that I often thought of Thomas when hearing Tristan confide in Marian his heartbreaking tale. For Tristan is gay, and in his relationship with Will Bancroft, he discovers great happiness and self-discovery as well as continued confusion and fierce pain. (However, his true feelings/relationship with Will are never revealed to Marian until the very, very end of the story.)

And, the final moments between Will and Tristan are indeed ones that make your heart pound, and yes, you are definitely at the edge of your seat, breathless, waiting for what is to happen next.  The Absolutist comes to a close when Tristan is in his advanced old age, a celebrated novelist, and is met again by Marian. She has come to see him after reading of his award in the newspaper. To confront him? To resolve the past? She doesn’t quite know herself, but it is for certain her one final visit. And it is in these final moments with Marian that Tristan confides that he has remained alone all these years. He has never considered another relationship, has never sought one out, for the one he had with Will is one that is everlasting. It’s truly a heartbreaking end.

John Boyne’s previous novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is also narrated by Michael Maloney. This had me frantically searching for the audio book about halfway through The Absolutist. I found it! I downloaded it! You know I’ll  be listening to it, but first, I think my soul needs a wee break. The Absolutist is an amazing story, absolutely amazing. It will most assuredly haunt me for quite some time.  Tristan Sadler remains on my mind today. A 5-star read for me.

You must promise that you will do everything to Listen to this story instead of just reading it. You must listen to it! This is absolutely one of those audiobooks that gives the Literary Hoarders every reason to continue their growing obsession and passion about audiobooks. It is a pure listening treat for your ears. Again, Michael Maloney brings this beautiful story to its full life that brims way over the top! You just must listen to it!