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BOOK REVIEW: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

BOOK REVIEW: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

Raven Books
November 2017
Paperback, $24.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Historical Fiction / Gothic / Horror

8/10

 

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 Silent Companions is told across three different time periods – in the hospital some time after the events that took place:

They didn’t get newspapers in the day room – at least, not when she had been allowed in there – but rumours had a way of seeping under doors and through cracks in the walls. Journalists’ lies made it into the asylum long before she did. Ever since she awoke in this place, she had been given a new name: murderess.
Other patients, attendants, even the nurses when they thought no one could hear: they twisted their mouths and bared their teeth as they said it, ravenous. Murderess. As if they wanted to frighten her. Her.

In 1865, when the majority of the creepiness and discovery are going on:

‘But who are our friends?’
She followed his gaze. ‘Oh!’
Standing either side of the dwindling fire were the companions.
But weren’t they just . . . Hadn’t she seen them in the Great Hall?
The girl looked sweetly apologetic, pressing the white rose to her chest as if begging for indulgence. But not the boy; his baleful eyes met hers with a direct challenge.

And in 1635, through diary entries, when the titular silent companions were first introduced to the family.

‘We may desire one or two . . .’
‘But the effect will be diminished. Come, I will let you take the whole collection.’
Usually, I would be wary of a person desperate to peddle his goods, but I wanted Mr Samuels’s strange toys. They were calling to me, watching me, baiting me to take them with their painted eyes.

There are things that take place in this book that are a little predictable, cliched, and specific to these kinds of creepy stories of supernatural otherness. The voice also feels as though it has been tempered for modern readers in that the language used in the 1635 pieces differs little from the language used in the 1865 sections. Of course it would be hard for modern readers to get into the story if written in language that was true to the time, but it would have been nice if these two were more easily distinguishable. 

But there are definitely some moments of decent creep-factor, and though it can be a little hard to get into, once the events begin unfolding it can be hard to put down. There were other elements that this reader, who finds far too many books predictable, did not anticipate and one situation in particular that I didn’t pick up on until later discussions with others who had also read the book.

All in all this is a nicely creepy, atmospheric story with a premise that hasn’t been done to death (pardon the pun) and showcases one of the more creepy and forgotten facets of our past.

After a slew of highly-disappointing horror stories of late, The Silent Companions is a nice change of pace.

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

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