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This House is Haunted ~ A Capsule Book Review

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This House is Haunted ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

This House is Haunted by John Boyne is a gothic ghost story set in Norfolk, England, in 1867. Eliza Caine is a plain, twenty-one-year-old teacher at a girls’ school in London. When she and her father, her only living relative, go to hear Charles Dickens do a reading from his work on a cold, rainy night, her father, already ill, catches a chill and dies. Now alone in the world, Eliza applies for, and gets, the position of governess to the Westerley family at Gaudlin Hall in Norfolk, England. (She doesn’t know the family’s name until later.) From the beginning, she knows almost nothing about the job; how many children there are or what the family is like. Her feeling of mystery only intensifies when she arrives at the crumbling old family mansion to begin her duties anew and finds nobody there except the two children, Isabella and Eustace. Isabella is older and seems to know things that nobody else knows; Eustace, at eight, is sweet and innocent.

Miss Caine discovers, to her horror, that she is just the most recent in a string of governesses. Only the governess right before her got away. All the others died mysterious deaths. Is she going to be next? As if several dead governesses before her isn’t bad enough, she soon feels a mysteriously malevolent and unseen force in the house that wants to get rid of her, to kill her if necessary. Slowly and bit by bit she learns the secret of Gaudlin Hall and the mysterious Westerley family for whom she works. Why doesn’t she just leave and go back to her old teaching job in London? She has grown attached to Isabella and Eustace, especially Eustace, and doesn’t want to leave them alone in the house. And she isn’t thinking only of the children, but also of herself; she is beginning to feel a growing romantic attachment to Mr. Raisin, the Westerley family lawyer, even though he is in his late thirties and already has a wife.

This House is Haunted seeks to emulate the Victorian writing style of Charles Dickens, but in its tone is more like Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. A young, plain woman, educated and alone in the world, strikes out on her own to take a job in an unknown place far away from what she knows and there encounters mystery and unexpected romance. Unlike the works of Charles Dickens, though, or Charlotte Bronte, This House is Haunted is quick, breezy, light-weight reading. There’s nothing too surprising here. The horror is very mild, unlike the recent trend in movies and books of horrific, shocking, grisly horror.  The story is so familiar that it almost seems clichéd but is still thoughtful, entertaining, and well worth the time and effort to read it.

Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp  

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2 responses »

  1. Really also like James’ book TURN OF THE SCREW? Children-horrific parents-or children that have an asset of murdering adults?

    Reply
    • There’s a really good movie version of Henry James’s “Turn of the Screw” called “The Innocents” with Deborah Kerr as the governess, made in 1961, I believe.

      Reply

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