This House is Haunted

Written by John Boyne
Review by Doug Kemp

Norfolk, 1867. Eliza Caine, aged 21, is alone in the world after the sudden death of her father. Still grieving, on a whim she moves from her home in London to become governess to two children at Gaudlin Hall in Norfolk. It is immediately clear both to Eliza and the reader that matters there are highly unusual, and Eliza finds herself in a house with a disturbed, haunted and vengeful presence. The children, Isabella and Eustace, are left virtually alone, and Eliza has to prise out the shocking history of the events of Gaudlin Hall, and the reasons why she is the sixth governess in a year, from the reluctant and frightened villagers.

Eliza narrates her story in a good simulation of the 19th-century style, and any reader familiar with Henry James’ Turn of the Screw will soon see a whole host of similarities with this story – the governess employed on mysterious terms, the emotionally disturbed children, and Heckling, the taciturn retainer at Gaudlin Hall, all seem to be derived from James’ tale. It is a gothic story, with the supernatural events reaching a crescendo either of chilling scariness or melodramatic ridiculousness, depending upon one’s perspective of paranormal stories. This is an excellent novel, gripping and absorbing.