The Silent Companions

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Title: The Silent Companions

Writer: Laura Purcell

Publishing House: Raven Books

Date of Publication: October 5th 2017

Rating: 5 stars

‘’I am not dead.’’

Goodness me! How can I write a coherent (and non-spoilery) review on a book that has stayed with me, haunting me (no pun intended) ever since I started reading? A novel that has definitely made it to my personal Top-10? A story that is haunting and ghostly, tragic, raw, darkly beautiful? The Silent Companions was everything I thought it would be and more. So much more than a ghost story, so much more than Historical Fiction. It is made from the finest blend of the two genres, it is perfect. In my opinion, at least.

Elsie, a young widow, travels to her late husband’s family estate in the 1860s. With her husband’s cousin, Sarah, as her sole companion, she finds an almost dilapidated dwelling, with stern, soulless servants that reflect the coldness of the entire village. As if that wasn’t enough, Elsie is expecting her first child and the nursery is the most mysterious room of the house compared only to the garret that must remain locked. Sarah finds a diary that transports us to the 1630s, a turbulent era when the terror of rebellion equaled the terror of Witchcraft. The prejudices against gypsies, against the invalids, against women who have a special understanding of Nature. Witches, ghosts, curses and troubled minds. A tapestry directed and supervised by the Silent Companions. But what exactly are these creepy wooden figures?

An early 18th century dummy board of a girl, in the Great Chamber at Trerice, Cornwall. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond (image source: https://nttreasurehunt.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/the-eloquence-of-a-silent-companion/)

The Silent Companions or, Dummy Boards, originated in the early 17th century and were popular until the end of the 19th century. They were oil-painted wooden figures that gave the impression of three-dimensional carvings. The reasons of their creation are still unclear, as they usually resembled the occupants of the particular estate. The main explanation is that these figures made an empty house looked as if it was still inhabited so potential burglars and looters were discouraged. Within the context of Purcell’s book, the wooden figures become one of the most disturbing presences in Gothic Fiction.

‘’No one was truly alone. Not ever, not in this house.’’

As should be the case in every ghost story that respects itself, the house becomes a character and the setting of a frightening battle. Purcell communicates the atmosphere in such a magnificent way…The description of Elsie’s journey to the estate in the second chapter is so beautiful, haunting, mysterious. It sets the stage for the drama that is to follow and creates images in the reader’s mind that speak of darkness and death. The word ‘death’ is repeated quite a few times. What could be more foreboding? There are whispers of strange deaths and the people of the village are frightening, unwilling to work for Elsie. And all of a sudden, everything darkens and darkens. The blood toil is unstoppable once it begins and its roots lie in the tragedy of an unfortunate family.

Dummy board from the second half of the 17th century representing a boy with a hobby-horse stick and an apple, at Chirk Castle, Wrexham. ©National Trust Collections

(image source: https://nttreasurehunt.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/the-eloquence-of-a-silent-companion/)

An exciting story needs equally exciting characters and The Silent Companions has them in abundance. Elsie and Anna are the main focus, two brave women whose fate is strangely sealed by unknown forces. I loved Elsie. She absolutely rules. She tells it like it is to everyone who fail to know their proper place, like the awful Mabel and the disgusting Mrs Holt. I also felt for Anna. For me, she was the most tragic character of the novel. Hetta, Josiah, Sarah, Jolyon…There’s not a single character that may be considered a filler or unnecessary.

‘’I need to feel the flames.’’

Purcell took many tropes of Gothic Fiction and wove them into a masterpiece. There are no insubstantial spirits, but hauntings made of wood, as alive as you and me. What should be innocent and kind becomes a demon, an instrument of utter evil. There is no ‘’in-your-face’’ horror that would seem unrealistic but an underlying mixture of uneasiness, an eerie, foreboding, claustrophobic feeling that escalates as the story progresses. There were certain scenes I will never forget. These are only a few of the things that make The Silent Companions such a unique, outstanding novel. And the end….well, it is perfect. I mean, it reaches the levels of perfection of Oliver Bierhoff and Ante Rebić. (If you don’t know them, Google them. Thank me later:) )

‘’You have written of these ‘’companions’’  as you call them. You say you were afraid of them. But do you know what really scares us? It is not things that go bump – or even hiss- in the night. Our fears are much closer than that. We are afraid of the things inside us.’’

 

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Vera says:

    I’ve added this book to my TBR without even thinking twice about it. It sounds utterly wonderful and I really enjoyed your take on it. Can’t wait to read it. What a brilliant review Amalia. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Vera says:

      And forgot to add: what a lovely cover! I may actually buy a hardcopy of this book! 🙂 💖

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, yes!! I tried to find the Hardcover edition but for the life of me, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I settled for the Paperback one which is also quite pretty and atmopsheric.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you so much, Vera!! I knew I was going to love it since Gothic atmosphere and creepiness are my absolute fix when it comes to books but this one was so much more.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oooh I’m so glad you loved it! First I read some amazing reviews, then some bad ones after I already bought the book, so I wasn’t sure, but I highly respect your opinion, so I know I’ll love it! 🙂 I wanted that white cover, and ordered it, but I got the black one, like in your featured image, and was a bit disappointed, but I guess black suits it better. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Marina!! I think the more negative reviews aren’t satisfied with the ending, but to each their own….I had a bit of an adventure with this one, actually. I had ordered the Hardback copy (the one with the white front cover and the delicious eye-popping) but they told me it was ultimately out-of-stock. And I couldn’t find it anywhere. Three days ago, I found a paperback copy in a bookshop I’ve never visited before and I settled for this one. Needless to say, the bookshop and I are practically married now…I do hope you’ll enjoy it when you find the chance to read it😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, that’s what I read, that they didn’t love the ending, but for each book that people hated the ending of – I loved it, so this could be the case too. 🙂 I like intricate covers like this (my inner designer loves them haha), but the black one is nice too. 🙂 It will be the second book I’ll read after the one I’m currently reading, so we’ll know soon, thanks. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’re very welcome, Marina!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I never heard about these wooden figures before.. it’s so great the author found her inspiration there and spinned a wonderful story around them. I love the explanations in your post! I actually had this novel in my hands a few weeks ago when there was a sale but I ultimately chose 2 other books. I wish I’d read your review before, the outcome would probably have been different ;-). Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Inge! The atmosphere in this novel was just phenomenal and the historical research was meticulous, to say the least. I cannot wait to read Purcell’s new novel.

      Liked by 1 person

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