This House is Haunted Writer: John Boyne
Publishing House: Doubleday
Publication Date: April 25th 2013
Rating: 2 stars
‘’Where are you?’’
‘’But answer came there none.’’
Eliza Caine may have found the answer to her question at some point, but unfortunately, I never found mine as to why I was expecting so much from this ‘’ghost’’ story…A story that tried too hard to include many Gothic tropes, to appear scary and intellectual at the same time, but eventually fell flat on all levels, in my opinion. But for the sympathetic protagonist, the intriguing children and some scarce glimpses of a remotely creepy atmosphere, I would have rated it with 1 sad little star…
Eliza wants to start a new life away from London after the death of her father. She abandons her occupation as a teacher for small girls (as we were told so many times because we readers are practically stupid and we forget too easily…) and replies to a dubious advert for the position of the governess in an old estate. When she reaches her destination, she realises that there are certain strange forces at work and the previous women’s work ended under peculiar (to put it mildly) circumstances.
The basis of the story, while not original by any means, is very interesting and has a lot of potential. When one is an avid lover of ghost stories, two things happen. One, we can’t keep away from every single read about the subject and two, there is very little that can impress us and truly catch our attention. I expected and I wanted an old-fashioned ghost story with an English foreboding estate, a troubled governess and secrets of the past haunting everyone, but not in a childish, naive manner of writing. Because, in my opinion, that is what I found here. A kind of writing that was flat, uninspiring, pretentious and predictable. Although the first 30% of the book was somewhat satisfying, the rest went downhill all too quickly. There was not a single thing that made me feel scared, although Boyne tried too hard to force it out. Excuse me, but this wouldn’t scare a child. So I treated it as a mystery rather than a ghost story and I still found it severely lacking. Boyne’s notion of ‘’scary’’ is Eliza being thrown around on walls, floors and grounds like a sack of potatoes with numerous parts of asphyxiation thrown for good measure. Overdone, unrealistic, ridiculous. There have been ghost stories I could actually believe in. Stories that made me shiver, stories that gave me nightmare. This one made me roll my eyes in frustration and I was lucky they weren’t stuck on the back of my head…
The characters are better constructed. The children are a good combination of creepy and intriguing and I really liked Eliza. I found her to be a reliable narrator and I admired her deep sense of duty and commitment to the children. Her musings concerning her work as a teacher touched me deeply, perhaps because I recognised many of her thoughts and feelings. Now, did I find her naive? No. Some of us put our priorities on children, come ghosts or vampires or bad parents, and we stick to them. This is what she did, this is why she didn’t run away and I don’t think this was unrealistic.I mean, really. We have a wrestling battle between spirits and humans and some consider her decision unbelievable…I know this will sound absurd to many in our current, artificial world where being ‘’comfortable’’ is all that matters, but anyway..Sorry for the rant, let us continue.
The end was somewhat satisfying and by ‘’end’’, I actually mean the last page, because the last chapters were eerily bad, almost laughable. I don’t know, many reviewers seemed to like it, so I’m clearly in the minority, but I cannot lie. For me, Boyne tried to combine ‘’The Turn of the Screw’’, ‘’Jane Eyre’’ and ‘’ The Woman In Black’’ in a big ghost-tale feast. Even ‘’Rebecca’’, if I take the end into consideration. But he is not Henry James, or Charlotte Bronte. He is not Daphne Du Maurier or Susan Hill. Although he pretended to be a contemporary Dickens, he failed miserably in my books. So, pushing all the anachronisms and improbabilities aside, this was mediocre at best and one of the biggest disappointments of my current reading year. I don’t doubt that he can write (I’m not qualified to judge…) but I won’t seek any of his books anytime soon…