THIS NOVEL BREATHES NEW LIFE INTO GOTHIC FICTION
Anovel featuring eerie painted figures whose eyes move sounds like it might be a bit naff, but The Silent Companions is anything but. This gothic ghost story is brilliantly atmospheric and very, very creepy.
It’s set in England in the late 1800s and you know things have gone badly wrong for its heroine Elsie right from the beginning because she’s mute and incarcerated in a mental asylum. Her doctor coaxes her to write down the history of how she ended up in such a state and so her spooky tale is told.
Elsie tells of how, pregnant and newly widowed, she is sent to her husband’s crumbling old estate in the country to await the birth of their child. It’s an unwelcoming place staffed by very few servants as none of the local villagers will go near it. At night, she hears a mysterious hissing sound that the resident housekeeper blames on rats up in the garret. But the door has been locked for years and there’s no key.
Then mysteriously, the door is found open. Elsie and her companion Sarah explore the dusty garret and come across the diary of Anne Bainbridge, who lived in the house 200 years earlier, as well as a curious painted figure of a little girl. They take both downstairs to the main house. Big mistake. Big, huge mistake!
More and more painted boards begin to appear and mysteriously they seem to be able to move from room to room. Meanwhile, Anne’s diary reveals why the house and the family that own it have been living under a curse. And Elsie’s own troubled history begins to emerge.
The sense of menace builds beautifully in this classicallystyled ghost story. The weather freezes, blood is spilt and evil walks. It’s tremendous stuff if you’re a fan of a good haunting.
Yes, there are some worn-out clichés here: the big, dilapidated house, the noises in the night, the sinister paintings. But Laura Purcell takes these common ghoststory ingredients and turns them into something special.
The Silent Companions is both chilling and compelling. Though I don’t really believe in ghosts, it managed to creep me out completely.
The Silent Companions
by Laura Purcell (Bloomsbury, RRP $26.99).