Eliza Caine is terribly disappointed when Charles Dickens announces to the gathered crowd that he is going to read them a ghost story. It is 1867, and Charles Dickens is giving a reading in a speaker’s hall at Knightsbridge. Not fond of ghost stories, Eliza spends a restless night dreaming of graveyards populated by spirits and ghosts. Given the name of this novel, a portent perhaps?
Upon waking she finds her father in a terrible fever. He had been gravely ill before last night, in which they had to walk in the rain to get to Knightsbridge. Eliza runs for the doctor but unfortunately her father passes away leaving her an orphan at 21.
After her father has passed Eliza, who is a school teacher finds herself slowly sinking into a state of melancholy and stagnation that she fears could turn into full on depression. So she decides to answer an advertisement in the paper for the position of a governess at Gaudlin Hall, taking care of two recently orphaned children, a brother and sister, in the county of Norfolk. She had only been outside of London once before, and although the advertisement is a little vague, she feels it may be just the thing she needs at this point in her life.
When she finds out that the house that her and her father have been living in does not belong to her, and that she must continue to pay the rent, that she cannot afford, than the decision to apply for the governess position at Gaudlin Hall becomes a necessity rather than an option.
She sends a letter of application and her qualifications to Gaudlin Hall and is more than surprised when a couple of days later she receives a letter informing her that she has the job. An interview is not needed. Perhaps warning bells should have begun to chime at this point.
On the trip to Gaudlin Hall in an open carriage even the weather seems malignant as the rains starts a slow but steadily building assault on Eliza and the driver.
When Eliza asks the driver about Mr Bennet, the man who posted the advertisement and replied to her application, he claims to have never heard of the man. Eliza’s sense of unease increases with the rain.
She finds out that Mr Bennet is indeed Miss Bennet the former governess, and she seems to have left in quite a rush. The alarm bells are chiming now.
Upon arriving at the country house, Eliza experiences real fear and must suppress the urge to ask the driver to turn around and take her straight back to the station.
Strange things start to happen immediately. Eliza finds that she cannot open the door to the carriage and could almost swear it was is if somebody was holding the handle on the other side, barring her exit. Eventually the cantankerous old driver opens the door for her with no problems at all.
From the point where Eliza enters the Hall an eerie feeling pervades the narrative. It is always there never far from Eliza. There is no subtlety with this ghost story there is a ghostly presence haunting Gaudlin Hall, and it is obvious that it intends Eliza harm.
Eliza find out just how much danger she is in when she discovers that three previous governesses have met with ghastly terrible accidents. One, unlucky, two, macabre coincidence, but three! Will Eliza be able to find out what is going on before she meets the same fate as the other governesses?
This novel has all the trademarks of a great Victorian age ghost story. The large almost empty mansion, the protagonist alone in her plight. The two young orphans who must be protected. The villagers who turn away and refuse to talk to Eliza when they find out she is the new governess. Oh yes, it’s all here.
There is nothing new to this ghost story, but Boyne does not try to add any new elements, he just writes it for what it is, a good old fashioned Victorian ghost story, with the added benefit of Boyne’s superlative writing. 4 Stars!
John Boyne (born 30 April 1971 in Dublin) is an Irish novelist.
He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where he won the Curtis Brown prize. In 2015, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by UEA.
John Boyne is the author of ten novels for adults and five for young readers, as well as a collection of short stories.
His novels are published in over 50 languages.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which to date has sold more than 7 million copies worldwide, is a #1 New York Times Bestseller and a film adaptation was released in September 2008. Boyne resides in Dublin. He is represented by the literary agent Simon Trewin at WME in London, United Kingdom.
There is an interview at Bookish here with Boyne talking about the novel - https://www.bookish.com/articles/john-boyne-this-house-is-haunted-qa/