“You have written of these ‘’companions’’ as you call them. You say you were afraid of them. But do you know what really scares us? It is not things that go bump – or even hiss – in the night. Our fears are much closer than that. We are afraid of the things inside us.“
TITLE & AUTHOR: The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
GENRE: Historical Fiction/Mystery/Gothic Fiction/Paranormal
PUBLISHED : October 5th 2017, by Raven Books
MY RATING: 4/5
A spooky Gothic novel set in Victorian era, and a gorgeous cover like this one is enough for me to pick up a book, but I’ve been burnt before so I dove into The Silent Companions cautiously. This was supposed to be a buddy read with Gerry @ BookNookUK, but as she read it in one sitting I had go through it alone, which made me drag it out over a month but in the end it was worth it!
The plot centers around Elsie, a recent widow moving to her late husband’s ancestral estate The Bridge, where she is expected to carry out her pregnancy. She’s accompanied by her husband’s cousin Sarah, a young girl full of life, contrasting Elsie who feels her life is ending by moving from the city to the dreary countryside. The Bridge is bleak and crumbling and the townspeople are weary and hostile towards its new mistress. The staff isn’t much different, regarding Elsie as an equal, which bothers her because she’s used to a better treatment, but even more so because she’s reminded that she married into fortune, and that she in fact was not unlike her servants not that long ago.
Trying to get her mind of Rupert, her husband, and the depressing surroundings, Elsie starts exploring the house with Sarah, and stumbles upon a door that’s been sealed for years. After unsuccessful attempts to open the door, one day they find it mysteriously open, and inside an old journal and two wooden figures – the companions. Sarah is mesmerized by the journal which belonged to Anne Bainbridge, the Bridge’s original mistress, and by the companions which Elsie displays in the house to appease Sarah. From this moment on, mysterious and creepy things start happening around the estate, which Elsie at first dismisses and tries to find logical causes for the events, and culprits among her own staff, but the uneasiness escalates to horror, revealing the house’s troubled history and Elsie’s own torturous past.
The narrative is split into three time periods – 1865, when Elsie and Sarah moved to The Bridge manor; 1635, through Anne Bainbridge’s journal; and the present, a couple of years after 1865, where Elsie recounts her story of The Bridge. If you know me, you know that I adore jumping through time, and various perspectives were very refreshing here, as The Bridge can be quite claustrophobic. Other than that, I truly loved Elsie’s character, her strength and endurance are admirable, and Anne showed herself an equally powerful woman, her only weakness being the immense love for her daughter, Hetta. The side characters like Hetta, Joylon – Elsie’s brother, and even the servants are all well crafted and equally important for this story. The house itself turns into a character, an enemy that is, which is the case with haunted houses, and being filled with these silent companions makes it more horrifying than it already is.
The silent companions are a real thing – 2D wooden paintings of people, also called dummy boards, which were usually placed next to the fireplaces or on the staircase landings. They weren’t really art pieces, but more of a welcome message to visitors, or guardians in case of an empty house. Now, they are one more weird historical object giving us, modern things, the heebie jeebies, and being used in mysterious tales like this one. This reminded me of The Miniaturist where another Dutch product, the huge dollhouse, is the center of the story (Which I adored btw), so if you loved that novel you’re bound to love The Silent Companions.