‘This House is Haunted’ by John Boyne

This House is HauntedstarstarstarThis little ghost story caught my attention because I so loved The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Boyne has written a number of novels for young readers, this is one of his eight novels for adults.

Written in Dickensian prose, this classic nineteenth-century spooky story made me wonder if it was all written ‘tongue in cheek’ since the opening line is “I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father.” But is that meant to set the tone for the entire novel? I never did figure that out, despite a few other references to Dickens, but it really doesn’t matter, it can be enjoyed either way.

Eliza Caine is led mysteriously to Gaudlin Hall in county Norfolk by a curious offer of a job as governess to two young children. But when she arrives there is no one about except for her young charges. Added to her concern, is not only the near accident upon her arrival at the train station, but also a number of strange things that continue to happen within the walls of Gaudlin Hall. As Eliza investigates she uncovers secrets that threaten not only her stay, but her very life.

With all the spooky Victorian clichés intact (isolated mansion, bare-foot orphan in nightwear, wind and fog, strange servants, cripple in the attic), the book can either leave you with a tingling spine (if you believe in ghosts) or with a delicious sense of entertainment (if you don’t). For me it was clearly the latter. It’s not that I denounce all possibility of such paranormal apparitions, it’s just that I haven’t met any myself yet. So I am safe in enjoying the story for just what it is – a nice atmospheric ghost story. Boyne is a good writer and he allowed me to revel in fear and fog while sitting by a crackling fire on a dark and stormy night. I had hoped for an original modern twist in the end but Boyne remained true to his gothic genre. The ending was exactly as it should have been – cue the creepy organ music.

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