Review

This House is Haunted

by John Boyne

Eliza Caine has always lived a very safe life. Her mother died when she was a young girl, but she spent a happy yet sheltered life with her father, who doted on her. When Charles Dickens comes to town for a performance, Eliza’s father, who is a devoted fan of the author, insists on going. His minor cold turns fatal after they get caught in a storm, and Eliza is left alone for the first time in her life. Adrift, she answers an ad in the paper for a governess. Once accepted, she quits her job as a teacher in London and moves to Norfolk to become the governess at Gaudlin Hall.

Accepting that her life will never be the same now that her family is gone, Eliza is determined to create a new life for herself. Upon her arrival in Norfolk, she has a frightening and unexplainable encounter at the train station. After recovering her senses, she is greeted by Gaudlin Hall’s caretaker, a man of few words and even less personality. Once she arrives at the house, she meets her young charges: Isabella and Eustace. Eliza asks several times about her employer but is rebuffed each time. She’s even more perplexed by the children. Isabella is a strange and, in some ways, rather terrifying young girl who Eliza can’t figure out. Eustace is a sweet child who she falls for immediately, becoming protective of the small, fragile boy.

"Just when you think things are beginning to calm down, they move up a notch. THIS HOUSE IS HAUNTED is a good old-fashioned ghost story --- a real indulgence and a fine read all around."

As the weeks wear on, Eliza becomes more and more curious about her employer and the house, but no one will answer her questions. She meets with the local attorney and executor of Gaudlin Hall, who answers some of her questions but never elaborates when she pushes for more information. The few people she befriends in the small town all seem to have some pressing matter to take care of when she starts asking questions. All the while, bizarre events keep happening at the house, and she begins to wonder if it might be haunted. Wanting to help the children but scared by the escalation of unexplainable events, Eliza starts questioning her decision to come to Gaudlin Hall and her mental state.

There’s nothing like a good ghost story. THIS HOUSE IS HAUNTED is a gothic tale full of sadness, loneliness and revenge. Once Eliza begins to understand the house’s history, her world is turned upside down. She stays out of loyalty to the children --- a lonely childhood won’t let her abandon Isabella and Eustace to a terrible fate --- but wants to do nothing but flee. Putting herself in danger, mentally and physically, she remains there, which, of course, is what makes this such a good story. You want her to run.

Eliza is the type of character you typically encounter in ghost stories. She has lived a sheltered life, but, even with its sad moments, a happy one. When her father succumbs to illness, Eliza knows she needs a change and makes the rashest decision possible, moving far from everything she’s ever known. Gaudlin Hall is every bit as cold and foreboding as it can be. Curtains move without a breeze, windows refuse to open, and sounds that can’t be attributed to a person all terrorize Eliza. Just when you think things are beginning to calm down, they move up a notch. THIS HOUSE IS HAUNTED is a good old-fashioned ghost story --- a real indulgence and a fine read all around.

Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on October 11, 2013

This House is Haunted
by John Boyne