Young schoolteacher Eliza Caine, within the span of a week, loses her father, her home, and her employment. Distraught over the loss of her only family, Eliza hastily replies to an oddly worded advertisement in the paper. Gaudlin Hall is looking for a governess. She is hired sight unseen and ventures to the north of England to begin her new life. But her new country home is not as idyllic as it seems, nor are the children as innocent as they appear. Something unseen is haunting Eliza’s every move and if she wants to survive, she will have to discover the sordid truth about her new home and its occupants.
‘This House is Haunted’ by John Boyne is everything a classic ghost story should be. With its Dickensian prose, disappearing servants, crotchety groundskeeper, mysteriously absent owner, precocious children, wary townsfolk, dense fog, and howling wind, it’s like a cross between ‘Rebecca’, ‘Jane Eyre’, and ‘Turn of the Screw’. If there was a checklist of required elements to creating a “classic” ghost story, Boyne would have hit every single one. From paling as a result of distressing news to the mysterious attic inhabitant, Boyne walks a fine line between homage and parody with excellent results. He does not attempt to add anything new to the genre and the novel is not “serious” despite its subject matter. The novel affectionately uses every cliché there is, yet Eliza is likable and not simply a caricature of a plain Victorian heroine. Is it predictable? Yes. Is it formulaic? Yes. Is it wonderfully atmospheric? Yes. Would I highly recommend it? Yes, with the caveat “not for highbrow literary purists”. From its opening line (“I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father.”) to its closing twist, it’s pure Gothic fun. 4/5. Read it and have a good time – it’s popcorn fiction.