First, let’s talk about the title. When my daughter saw me reading This House Is Haunted, she remarked that it sort of gives away the story. There is truth in advertising. Indeed, this house is haunted!
When Eliza’s father dies after catching a chill while attending a talk by Charles Dickens, she finds herself both orphaned and homeless. Panicked, she accepts a position as a governess without investigating the home, parents, or the children. What’s the worst that could happen?
Eliza learns fairly quickly that all is not right at Gaudlin Hall. Her charges, a girl and her younger brother, appear to be alone in the great, crumbling house. Alone, but not alone, as Eliza finds out. Another presence lives at Gaudlin Hall, and it is not happy with the new governess.
For everything I liked about This House Is Haunted by John Boyne, there was something I didn’t. It is a straight forward ghost story. There is a ghost, for sure, an angry ghost. Finding out who the ghost is and why all the hate is most of the plot. I had things figured out before Eliza did. Some reader might find it scary but I didn’t particularly. There wasn’t the build up of tension and dread, unlike Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger. There weren’t a lot of surprises and I thought the ending was a bit cheesy.
Character-wise, I loved Eliza’s practicality and common sense. Her determination to get to the bottom of things when everyone else either avoids the topic or thinks she’s crazy was something I liked about her. I did not understand her obsession with the lawyer though. Why, Eliza, why? He’s so douchy.
I also didn’t understand the villagers reluctance to talk about Gaudlin Hall. They aren’t affected by any of what is going on there. In my small town, people would be lining up to talk to the new governess and give her their version of events. She’d never get anything else done!
This House Is Haunted utilizes many elements of the Gothic novel: the old mansion, the isolation, the lonely heroine, and some creepy children. I didn’t think it was a coincidence that the kids are a sister and brother, like the kids in The Turn of the Screw.
I read this during the Readathon and it was a quick and easy read. It is well written and entertaining. If you want a typical ghost story that’s not too scary, you might like this. If you are looking for something out of the ordinary with lots of twists and surprises, look elsewhere in the genre.