It is time, once again, for a summer book review. I’m excited – and you should be too. Whoa, I’m rhyming! That’s impressive.
Unlike my dazzling introductions, This House is Haunted is not a laugh. It comes to us from John Boyne, the author of the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. If you read The Boy on the Striped Pyjamas and swore never again – don’t worry. You won’t need tissues for this one, but you may need to keep the lights on.
After the untimely death of her father, Eliza Caine impulsively leaves her home in London to fill the position of governess at Gaudlin Hall. Upon her arrival, Eliza meets her young charges, Isabella and Eustace. Mysteriously, the children seem to be the only ones living in the house – there’s no sign of their parents, or any other adults. As Eliza settles in, she is attacked by a malign presence, and it becomes clear that she is not welcome.
Well, it has been too long since I read a nice, gothic horror story! Reading This House is Haunted was a somewhat nostalgic experience. It transported me back to the days of high school English, when I regularly explored haunted castles by candlelight, alongside a plucky, yet soberly clad heroine. Figuratively, of course.
Admittedly, that’s all warm and fuzzy. As I was perusing Goodreads, I noticed many reviewers complaining that This House is Haunted is unoriginal. That might be a fair call. If you’ve read any gothic fiction (hard to avoid these days) you’ll find there is nothing earth shattering about the plot, nothing shocking about the twists and turns. But in many ways, the familiarity of the story was one of the reasons that I enjoyed it. Boyne chose to explore the rich (albeit well-worn) world of dark Victorian streets, fog-dampened moors, cobweb infested manor houses and creepy children. His writing is smooth, skilful and atmospheric and from the moment you see the title, you know what you’re signing up for. Personally, I can respect that.
The only thing that really bugged me about this book, was the same thing that usually bugs me in horror stories. That is, the heroine and her blatant disregard for sense and reason. Boyne wrote Eliza as a particularly plain, responsible sort of girl – perhaps trying not to funnel her into a glamorous stereotype. However, the ‘plain’, sensible heroine we see so often, generally manages to secure a handsome love interest and almost never demonstrates any sort of sense in her decision-making. Upon finding out that a homicidal ghost is haunting your new home, you do not resolve to get a good night’s rest and deal with it. Angry spirits are not a mere inconvenience to be dealt with and ignored on a daily basis.
Last mentions: I found this story only mildly scary. Hard-core horror lovers may be left unsatisfied, wusses will be thrilled. You can also expect a typically open horror story ending.
All in all, This House is Haunted is a fun, quick read from a talented author. Set it aside for the next dark and stormy night.