Now, when it comes to books, there is one thing I am always a sucker for: historical fiction novels with an essence of haunting, whether that be ghosts, the supernatural, or unexplainable accidents. The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell definitely fits the bill and must be one of my favourite reads of 2018.
I picked it up by chance whilst I was waiting at the airport mainly because it was half price with a bottle of water… And I really needed a bottle of water. I started reading it while I was waiting for the plane and by the time I had finished the first chapter I knew I was going to love it.
As always I’m terrible at giving way spoilers when I’m trying to explain the summary of a book, so I’m not going to try. Instead, I’ve found this rather lovely synopsis from GoodReads which I’ll let you read before I tell why exactly I am in love with this book.
When newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge, what greets her is far from the life of wealth and privilege she was expecting . . .
When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. But with her husband dead just weeks after their marriage, her new servants resentful, and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie has only her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Inside her new home lies a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure–a silent companion–that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of The Bridge are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition–that is, until she notices the figure’s eyes following her.
A Victorian ghost story that evokes a most unsettling kind of fear, this is a tale that creeps its way through the consciousness in ways you least expect–much like the silent companions themselves.
One thing that makes this book particularly interesting is that it is effectively three stories interweaved together. The first story follows Elsie and her life after the events at The Bridge; the second story is written as Elsie tries to remember what happened with the Silent Companions at The Bridge; and the third story follows a different Bainbridge and her diary entries from when the companions first arrived and the terrible events that followed. It was so interesting to see the whole history mapped up and terrifying to see how the events mirrored each other. What also makes the book as a whole even more mysterious is that you can never be certain we are being told the truth because the stories rely on each other so much. How can we be certain the story Elsie is remembering is true, or is she telling it in a way that will make her seem innocent? Whose to say we can believe the diary that was oh-so-suddenly discovered? There are so many questions and queries that surround this classically neo-victorian text and I loved it completely.
This novel is also largely centred around female characters, from Elsie the Lady, to Sarah her husband’s spinster cousin, to the female maids. There are also the female characters from even further in the past, Anne and Hetta Bainbridge, who are victims of a male controlled world where the threat of being identified as a witch is always looming. Despite being incredibly strong female characters in their own right, these women operate in a society which wishes them to be defined and confined, and those who fail to comply are violently punished.
Finally, one thing that cannot be ignored when gushing about this book are the Silent Companions themselves. To avoid spoilers I can’t tell you an awful lot about them but let me just say they were terrifying. They reminded me of my favourite Doctor Who villains, the Weeping Angels, but I think they seemed even more sinister. Their continual presence and mystery had me completely hooked and make this story so interesting and unique.
If you are looking for a new read and one that you can absolutely devour, I recommend this book. I have already forced one person to read it and I can assure you I have a long list for after they have finished.