Title: The Silent Companions
Author: Laura Purcell
Publisher: Raven Books
Date: 2018 (2017)
Genre: Historical Fiction / Gothic
Summary: 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.
The Silent Companions is a historical novel split between two eras: 1865/1866 and 1635. It tells the story of Elsie who, after moving into her husband’s ancestral home, is haunted and stalked by strange figures.
This is a creepy, sinister novel that blends Gothic horror and Gothic terror in the best ways possible. Anticipation builds from the very first page as you’re thrown into the deep-end by Purcell as the book introduces Elsie in a psychiatric hospital or, as it would have been in the 1860s, a “mental asylum”. The plot is actually a series of flashbacks from Elsie’s life, interspersed by first-person diary entries from the life of Anne Bainbridge who resided at The Bridge in 1635, and tension builds as we’re slowly introduced to the house and its creepy inhabitants. It’s a difficult plot to explain without giving too much away but I thoroughly enjoyed the slow but terrifying encounters with the silent companions.
I also really liked the split structure of the novel. I found it very engaging because the action was constantly switching between the two eras and it was fascinating to witness the consequences of Anne’s actions in 1635 playing out in 1865. It was also a wonderful way to build suspense because the action of each era was often interrupted by a chapter focused on the other era. Purcell often builds you up only to drop you back into the mundane but the pay-off at the end is excellent as the major events of both eras occur almost simultaneously.
The characters of The Silent Companions are well-developed and well-written. They’re complex, three-dimensional characters who feel real (if a little over dramatic) and I loved how it was mostly focused on women. There are few male characters and they’re often either sinister, awful, or completely useless. Women are at the heart of this deliciously creepy novel and Purcell created a number of compelling characters for both eras in which the novel is set.
Would I recommend it? Yes! If you’re up for a creepy, sinister historical novel with Gothic undertones then I would highly recommend reading this one.
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