Review published on January 22, 2018.
Spooky, atmospheric and spine-tingling, The Silent Companions had me turning the pages whilst curled up under the duvet and checking the shadows for sinister beings!
Set in the 1800s, the novel recounts the sinister string of events that have let to Mrs Elsie Bainbridge being examined in a psychiatric hospital on suspicion of arson and murder. Mute and traumatised, Elsie is gradually forced to recollect the possibly supernatural events of the previous year which started with her new husband Rupert’s death and her journey, accompanied by Rupert’s cousin Sarah, to his ancestral home, The Bridge.
There is a strong psychological element within this ghost story. Elsie is a fantastically unreliable narrator and, as the only surviving witness to her version of events, it becomes impossible for the reader to decide on the true narrative. The supernatural elements themselves are handled really well and there’s also a fantastically charged and controlled atmosphere throughout the book. Every page oozes with tension and there’s a creeping sense of horror and dread.
I also felt that there was an underlying narrative within the book about the roles and perceptions of women which would be interesting for book groups to discuss. Whether it’s suspicious whispers about witchcraft or the fear of female madness and hysteria, the events of the novel cleverly illustrate the myriad ways in which fear of the strange and supernatural has often been tied into the control and subjugation of women. It makes the book genuinely frightening, both in term of the supernatural agencies that might be at work and the real world fears of societal exclusion and condemnation faced by Elsie and the other women.
With it’s creeping sense of dread and shades of Gothic horror, this novel was utterly terrifying (in a good way) and reminded me very much of the works of Susan Hill combined with elements of Wilkie Collins and M.R. James.
Amy Louise Blaney 4/4
The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
Raven Books 9781408888094 hbk Oct 2017
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