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by John Boyne
Other Press, October 2013
304 pages
ISBN: 1590516796

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The story of the new governess who encounters mysterious happenings at her new job in the English countryside has been done frequently and often superbly, so often that one might think another one is not required. THIS HOUSE IS HAUNTED is at once a homage to this classic tale and a new approach to the genre, a novel that succeeds as a throw-back to the governess stories of Brontė and du Maurier, as a haunted house story, and most importantly as an affecting piece of literary fiction.

Eliza Caine is a heartbroken young woman when her only surviving loved one, her father, passes away after taking ill following a Charles Dickens public reading. She needs to try something new. She quickly answers a posting for a governess position and before she knows it she is on her way to Norfolk where she quickly finds that all is not as it appeared in the newspaper advertisement. There are certainly two children to look after at Gaudlin Hall, the lovable Eustace and the independent Isabella, but their parents are nowhere to be found and mysterious accidents seem to be occurring in the home and when she asks the townspeople about the children's parents, they clam up with horrified expressions and tell her it's not their place to explain. Eliza finds herself increasingly desperate and eventually discovers the horrific history of the Hall. She must decide not only how to survive the apparently haunted Gaudlin Hall, but what is the right and ethical way to do it while doing what's best for the children.

Author John Boyne (THE ABSOLUTIST) has given us a tale that is not only frightening, but compelling and affecting even when considered outside of the genre paradigm. Taking a page from Brontė and du Maurier, he turns the classic tale on its head and while the story is still about love, it is about love in a different way from the usual Gothic romance and is more authentic and moving as a result. While the lack of originality in literature these days is often criticized, there is something to be said for a powerful homage that embodies the best of the work it imitates while possessing enough of an independent spirit to stand on its own. Boyne's work combines these two qualities with seamless ease, and as an unabashed fan of JANE EYRE and REBECCA, I am thrilled to be reminded of those classics with a work as good as this. Charles Dickens is also evoked in the plot, the prose and the novel's thematic elements as well, to the delight of all who admire the Victorian novel.

In the end, Boyne is able to pay tribute to classic literature and create a tale that works both as an excellent read this Halloween and as a piece of contemporary fiction that will surely be enjoyed for years to come. Every time the narrative of THIS HOUSE IS HAUNTED threatens to fall into cliché or somehow become too familiar, the author rewrites the script for us with compelling results that could not be more highly recommended.

§ Ben Neal is a librarian who likes to fancy himself an amateur writer, humorist, detective, and coffee connoisseur in his spare time. He can be reached at beneneal@indiana.edu.

Reviewed by Ben Neal, October 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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