The Silent Companions
Ghost stories are having a revival at present, and Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions, set in the 19th century, is a worthy newcomer to the genre. When newly widowed Elsie Bainbridge is sent to the family’s country estate to escape scandal in London, she discovers in the garret the silent companions of the title, wooden boards depicting lifelike images of the house’s past residents. These silent companions, which were in fact fashionable in the 17th century, are one of the creepiest concepts I’ve come across in a ghost story, both frightening and original. Terror is amped up as the companions apparate around the house, and the story is interspersed with a diary written by Anne Bainbridge, the purchaser of the companions two hundred years earlier.
The Silent Companions has been compared to Susan Hill’s ghost stories and to Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger. As an aficionado of both, I would suggest that The Silent Companions is a little too gory in parts to match the elegance of those masters of the genre, and the plotting isn’t as tight. Loose ends are introduced and not resolved, and ideas are suggested for no reason other than to be chilling. For example, Elsie thinks that the first companion resembles Elsie herself; there is no logical reason for this as she is a Bainbridge by marriage. The suggestion is soon forgotten, although we do discover superficial similarities between Elsie and that character. I found the ending a little disappointing. Like Hilary Mantel’s characters in Wolf Hall, Purcell’s characters sound very modern and not of their time, which doesn’t bother me but may upset readers who prefer historical accuracy. However, the writing is strong and the concept provides a fresh twist on an old classic. I enjoyed The Silent Companions and look forward to reading what Purcell writes next.