This House is Haunted, by John Boyne

I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher. It will be released 8 October 2013.

This House is Haunted
There are shades ('scuze the pun) of a lot of governess stories in John Boyne's This House is Haunted. I saw Jane Eyre, Turn of the Screw, and bits of Agnes Grey here. It's not a bad thing. This House is Haunted is very much it's own book; but, if you're aware of those other books, it seems like this one is taking part in the conversation about the curious position of a governess in a home. She's not quite a servant, because she has (or should have) charge of the master and/or mistress' children. But she's an employee who serves at her employer's pleasure. There's almost no recourse if something goes wrong other than quitting.

In the case of Eliza Caine, the governess at the center of This House is Haunted, sees an ad for a post at a Norfolk house shortly after her father's death leaves her on the verge of being evicted from their rented house. When she gets a letter back from H. Bennett to let her know she's been hired without an interview, Eliza is a little curious but still jumps at the chance to get away from London and her tenuous position there. Eliza shortly arrives at Gaudlin House to discover that the two children are living without any real parental--or even any real adult--supervision. She can't get a straight answer from them about where their parents are or what happened to the previous governesses. Eliza only gets the truth about the family tragedy when she corners the family solicitor, Mr. Raisin, about halfway through the book.

Even knowing what happened to Isabella and Eustace's parents only answers some of Eliza's questions. The story doesn't explain why she feels hands trying to push her out the window, out of bed, or in front of a train. It doesn't explain the scalds she gets from water that was ice cold mere seconds ago. Something--someone--wants Eliza gone from the house. The children know that the presence won't hurt them, even when it appears on a Great Yarmouth beach in the guise of a vicious black dog. It's only after Eliza.

There are some missteps in This House is Haunted. The deliberate foreshadowing is unnecessary. We're often told what Eliza is feeling rather than shown. This book would have been a lot better if Boyne had invested more in creating the paranoid and claustrophobic atmosphere. But Eliza is a great, strong character. She's fierce and determined. Boyne also does a great job of blending plausible psychology into his ghost story, enough that I pitied the ghost as much as dreaded her. Once Eliza arrives at Gaudlin House and starts to piece the plot puzzles together, the book improves. I'd recommended it, because the flaws are relatively minor.

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