A complimentary advanced reader copy of this book was provided by Other Press in exchange for an honest review. (Thank you!) My review was in no way influenced by this consideration.
When I read the synopsis of John Boyne’s This House is Haunted, two things impelled me to request copy immediately: “ghost story” and “Dickensian prose.” I know! I know! Some of you are thinking “Omgosh, that sounds like THE COOLEST THING EVAR and I must read it NOW,” and the rest of you are going, “Uhhh…why?” K. Lemme ‘splain.
This House is Haunted takes place in actual Dickens-contemporary London, so it’s not completely crazy to have the protagonist, Eliza, speaking in the same way Dickens’ characters did. I have to say, I’ve read a fair bit of Dickens over the years, but it’s been quite a while, so initially, I thought maybe Boyne was overdoing it–the sentences were quite wordy. Then again, I really couldn’t recall what Dickens had been like. Then I remembered one night, as a kid, when I’d stayed up reading (in my blanket fort, no less) A Christmas Carol, and found one sentence that literally took up a whole page and bled on to the next one. Seriously. DICKENS WAS SO WORDY. This…is not like that. Sentences are really no longer than what I’m writing; they’re just a little less modern and a touch more formal. I found it charming and delightful, and after a couple of chapters, I got so completely used to the way the characters spoke that it faded into the background.
Boyne is an intelligent writer (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is among his credits). His plot was interesting, his characters engaging. I felt deeply for Eliza and her father, and particularly for her young charge, Eustace. Her friends Mr. Raisin and Mrs. Toxley were also well-rounded and emotionally grounded. I would have liked just a bit more development with Isabella, and even, perhaps, Mrs. Livermore.
As a ghost story, House is an interesting specimen. It bears comparison to The Turn of the Screw, and even perhaps a bit of Jane Eyre or Rebecca. Though the foreshadowing, throughout, is a bit heavy, I was still wrapped up in the drama of the story, right up until the end–I was a little disappointed with the big, climactic scene of the novel. I think Boyne let Eliza feel a little too calm while things were literally crumbling and shattering around her, and I would have liked to see that scene be far more distressing.
Still, nothing about this book is poorly written. I did like the way Boyne wrapped up the story, and I was generally pleased with my reading experience, and can recommend it as a fun, “scary” romp through post-industrialized England. It might make an interesting book-group read–a murder is discussed a couple of times, but not in gory detail. These are ladies in Dickensian England, after all!
This House is Haunted comes out tomorrow! 3 stars.