Wednesday, 9 January 2019

The Silent Companions

When Elsie Bainbridge finds herself in St Joseph's Hospital, she has lost her voice and stands accused of murder. Dr Shepherd is drawn to her case and encourages her to write down whatever she can remember. Her memories take her back to 1865, newly widowed and sent to reside in the country house of her late husband, Rupert.

The truth was mad, beyond the realms of any healthy imagination. And that was why the truth was the only thing guaranteed to keep her under lock and key.

The Silent Companions has a pretty eerie premise. The title refers to figures painted on board (like life-size cardboard cut-outs) that were popular among the gentry, especially in the Netherlands. I would be pretty freaked out by them lurking in the corners of an unfamiliar house even if they weren't haunted.

Grieving for Rupert, Elsie uncovers the companions in a locked room at The Bridge. Yeah, yeah, beware of locked rooms that do not wish to be unlocked! At first they feel like they are being watched, just cleverly painted, surely? Then there seem to be more of them.

Rupert's only remaining family is young Sarah, who goes with Elsie into what they think of as exile in this house away from society. Sarah finds the diary of one of her ancestors in the locked room and learns about Anne, accused of witchcraft, and young Henrietta, born without a fully formed tongue. It does well to remember that at the start of the book, Elsie cannot speak either.

The timeline jumps between St Joseph's at an unspecified date, Elsie's time at The Bridge and diary entries from 1635. The portions of the story from 1635 take the form of Anne's diary entries, as they prepare for a royal visit. She buys the companions in an attempt to impress the visiting King and Queen, but soon comes to regret her purchase. The merchant did seem very eager to sell them to her...

A series of unfortunate events leads to paranoia and suspicion. Who would believe that painted wood could move? She must be going mad, or the servants are playing tricks on her. Right? It is very creepy and Laura Purcell does a great job of capturing a Gothic atmosphere.

I found knowing that Elsie makes it out alive but incarcerated in an asylum, gave away some of the mystery. I wasn't hungry to find out what happens next because, to me, it was clear what probably happened. I still enjoyed it but I wan't a fan of the telling in hindsight approach in this case.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 36. A ghost story

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Book Source: Purchased

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