Title: The Silent Companions
Author: Laura Purcell
Format: Digital ARC, 384 pages
Publication Details: October 5th 2017 by Raven Books
Genre(s): Horror; Historical Fiction
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.
Inspired by the work of Shirley Jackson and Susan Hill and set in a crumbling country mansion, The Silent Companions is an unsettling gothic ghost story to send a shiver down the spine…
Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge.
With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. But inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself.
The premise of this book had me at ‘Susan Hill’ and ‘crumbling mansion’, and although it wasn’t without its flaws, I ended up really enjoying it.
In The Silent Companions, we first meet Elsie in an institution. She can’t talk and the doctors seem very wary of her; she’s mad; a lost cause. But there is one doctor who tries to help her to communicate, to hear her story.
Elsie tells the story of how she came to The Bridge, an old mansion with incompetent staff, pregnant and husbandless. Now a Lady of the House, Elsie tries to adjust to her new life, but the mansion is strange, cold, and unwelcoming. Her only friend is Sarah her late husband’s sister, who she finds dull, but beggars can’t be choosers as they say.
When Elsie and Sarah come across a locked attic room whilst exploring the house, they wonder what could possibly be up there. Then, all of a sudden, the door isn’t locked anymore. In the room is something that will propel a series of bizarre and dangerous events – a silent companion.
I had never heard of silent companions, and this book compelled me to look them up. They are strange wooden paintings made to look like people with shading and the like. They’re pretty creepy by all accounts, especially when they start multiplying and moving of their own accord!
An early eighteenth century dummy board from the Great Chamber at Trerice, depicting a girl holding a basket of flowers.
An early eighteenth century painted dummy board from the Great Chamber at Trerice, depicting a boy holding a hat.
It took me a while to get into this book- I wasn’t a fan of the beginning- but by the time Elsie and Sarah found the first companion I was already starting to get intrigued, and from then on I was hooked.
What I struggled with was the structure. Now, I don’t know whether it was down to the digital proof (which could be resolved now it’s published) but there was no indication of when we shifted in time which was really off putting. It threw me off on a lot of occasions. It also took me a while to realise that a second storyline came from a diary that Sarah found – also in the attic – and gave us an origin story as to the original ghost/companions. It would have certainly benefited from a dinkus or *** each time, so the reader doesn’t have to work too hard in figuring out where they are in the story, and whose storyline we are following.
However, this was a great read overall. As the premise suggests, it is a return to a traditional ghost story in the style of the likes of Susan Hill & Shirley Jackson, and it’s an impressive diversion from Purcell’s usual historical fictions.
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