I don’t often read ghost stories but I do love John Boyne. Having recently read A History of Loneliness, I was keen to read more by him and happened upon this ghost story as something a bit different to my regular literary fodder.
Eliza Caine is a schoolteacher in London who decides, quite impulsively, when her life changes quite radically, to become a governess in Norfolk to the Westerley children, Isabella and Eustace. There have been many governesses before her although she does not know this when she takes the appointment but she soon discovers that, along with her and the children, there is a malevolent presence in the house who wishes her harm.
The narrative is told in the first person and Eliza guides us through her life at Gaudlin Hall. The way that the tale unfolds is in drips: Boyne is careful not to tell you everything at once as the suspenseful nature of the ghost story would be lost. Her charges, Isabella and Eustace are intelligent children and when Eliza discovers them in the house alone, she immediately sets out to provide them with good care. With no sign of parents, it would appear that they are the sole occupants, although exactly what or whom is in there with them is what is revealed as the story goes on.
There are very few supporting characters. In her pursuit of answers, Eliza Caine meets with Hinkley, the coachman, Mr Raisin, the solicitor in charge of the estate and Mrs Livermore, the housekeeper, but mainly, we are inside Eliza’s head and the extent of her fear is palpable as she relates her day-to-day existence. Despite the threat to her safety, Eliza is a strong character and I liked this about her. She is determined to find the truth, even to the point of making others uncomfortable but she is also keen to help the children and has an especial fondness for Eustace.
Boyne’s narrative twists and turns with surprises and reveals that propel the plot to its satisfying but not wholly surprising conclusion, although I did like the way that it ended and felt it was fitting for the book.
Boyne continues to impress and I will continue to seek out his books to read.